Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has caused quite a commotion among sports fans and women’s rights advocates. Despite the National Football League’s knowledge of Rice’s assault case since February, harsher punishment was not issued for the player until Sept. 8.
The NFL changed its punishment for the player to an indefinite suspension only after a second video of the incident was released, causing public outcry. This poses the question of whether Rice was punished for the violent act or for the public knowledge of it.
There are claims that, while Rice is in the wrong, he does not deserve to lose his job. I would then ask what he does deserve. Rice is getting fired. However, ordinary citizens convicted of assault are likely to go to jail.
Many people find it justified to forcefully react to an unarmed teenager who allegedly stole from a convenience store. Does the status of being a famous athlete grant immunity from the consequences of illegal actions?
I think that the question many people are asking is: Is it up to the NFL to enforce morality among its players? I think the answer is no. People in the spotlight are seen as role models. I do not think the responsibility of enforcing any kind of morality should be left up to any chosen person or non-government institution. It should be up to individuals, and it was a multitude of individuals who called for the NFL to act. The NFL did not comply out of the goodness of its heart. It would have fired Rice in February if it had been worried about that.
It seems that all people working in entertainment should realize their careers depend on the whims of entertainment consumers. It is also prudent to be aware of the NFL’s anti-defamation clause, or morality clause, in the players’ contracts, which warrants penalties, including termination, for actions that damage the league’s reputation.
The NFL’s reaction is one concerned with its pockets. People were disgusted by what they saw, and their morality would be questioned if they continued to support the NFL. Rice was fired for the moral temperament of football fans.
While I do not think that morality was the concern of the NFL, there is a bit of moral enforcement going on. It is no secret that domestic violence is an issue for women and that many men, famous athletes included, get away with this. If the worst punishment a man had to worry about was an equivalent to a two-game suspension, the consequences of assault are not too stringent. However, if a man risks losing a dream career, the stakes become a lot higher.
That is not the right reason for respecting the bodily autonomy of another human being, but perpetrators of this crime already have no regard for the female body. If this is the case, should the NFL adopt a zero-tolerance policy for domestic abuse?
This is where I say yes. The policy is not the same as enforcing morality among players. However, it helps the public handle beliefs around the issue. It conveys the message that violating women is wrong.
This is an important issue for society because, according to the National Task Force to End Violence against Women, 1 in 4 U.S. women will experience domestic violence during their lifetimes. Women experience nearly 3 million physical assaults a year, not including sexual assault. Every year, 1 in 3 female homicide victims are murdered by current or former partners. Every day, three women die at the hands of their partners.
Football is one of the things in this country that give people a moment to forget about the world and enjoy something. However, a great number of fans do not want their admiration, their millions of dollars each year, to be spent on Rice, exempting the abuser from legal repercussions. If Rice were still in the NFL, supporting the league would be supporting him, in my opinion. I hope fans will continue to realize that the NFL exists for them, and they should continue to exercise as much control over the league as possible. Changes in attitude can only arise from within society, not from a flock of money men in suits.
Amber Richards is a graduate student in post-secondary and adult education.