The sight of a professional football player knocking out his fiancée (now wife) in a hotel elevator has precipitated what is becoming the worst scandal in the history of the NFL. The abuse viewed on camera in that elevator is bad enough by itself, but what is making matters even worse are the hypocrisy and hidden agendas of those responding to it. Although I feel for Mrs. Rice, I am glad that her misfortune has finally brought the issue of domestic abuse out of the closet and into the daylight. Perhaps now that the NFL scandal has pulled back the curtain on domestic abuse, the issue will get the attention it has so long deserved.
In this column I condemn the abuse that took place in a hotel elevator, criticize Roger Goodell for his hapless handling of the situation, shine a light on the failure of the U.S. Soccer team to take appropriate action against Hope Solo who—like four NFL stars—has been formally charged with domestic abuse, and condemn the media for applying a double standard in which Hope Solo is given a pass while Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Jonathan Dwyer, and Adrian Peterson are being punished. Don’t get me wrong. I believe Rice, Hardy, Dwyer, and Peterson should be punished, and probably more severely than they actually will be, as you will read shortly in this column. But I also believe that a double standard that gives Hope Solo a pass when she is charged with the same crime as her NFL counterparts is nothing short of blatant gender bias.
Domestic abuse is not new. It has been going on for a long time. I grew up in a household where domestic abuse was all too common, but, unfortunatgely, at a time when society covered the issue up rather than confronting it openly. In fact, as a youngster I knew a minister who beat his wife. Everyone in the congregation knew about it, but nobody spoke up or took any kind of action to discipline the preacher or protect his battered wife. As long as the abuse happened behind closed doors, men could get away with it. In fact, had Ray Rice not beat his wife on camera, he probably would have gotten away with it.
Domestic abuse has been a problem since the dawn of time, one that society has until now chosen to sweep under the rug whenever possible. This is probably why the NFL Commissioner mishandled these cases so badly from the outset. It is easy to believe that Ray Goodell thought he could and should handle the spate of domestic-abuse cases in the same way America has always handled them: by quietly condoning them. But Goodell never counted on a video recording of the cowardly act going virile. Ray Rice had the poor judgment to behave badly at a time in our history when women have more of a voice than they did when I was a kid, and they are speaking out on this issue. Women are no longer content to let domestic abuse be swept under the rug, and this sentiment is shared by women all across the political spectrum, not just liberal feminists. Further, a lot of men agree with them. Frankly, it’s about time.
When America voiced outrage at the hapless nature of his original response to the Ray Rice controversy, Commissioner Goodell had to back up and punt. Frankly, I think he was stunned by the level of anger vented against him, the NFL, and Rice. Further, I suspect his feckless explanation and forced apology was about money and survival, not a genuine concern for abused women. Roger Goodell strikes me as a man who is sorry he got caught unprepared, not a man who is sorry the abuse took place. A more honest response would have been for Goodell to issue a press release saying: I thought I could just sweep this situation under the rug like men have been doing all my life. When did the world change on me? He belatedly got on board the accountability train, but only after it was so far down the tracks he had no other choice. Frankly, I doubt he will survive this debacle. If he doesn’t, good riddance, and if he does, shame on the NFL.
The NFL and male professional athletes who are prone to fits of domestic abuse better get their acts together. The curtain has been pulled back on this cowardly act, and what has been revealed is not pretty. The kind of violence displayed in that hotel elevator by Ray Rice is not allowed on the field in NFL games, why should it be condoned off the field. Here is my suggestion for Roger Goodell and the NFL team owners who are struggling to regain a measure of credibility in this debacle: Convene a jury of battered women—women who have been beaten repeatedly by their husbands. Present the NFL’s domestic abuse cases to them and let these battered women decide the fate of the players in question. Then, once they have pronounced their sentence, let the same jury decide on the fate and future of Roger Goodell.
Now a few words about the flip side of this controversy. U.S. soccer star Hope Solo has been charged with the same crime for which Ray Rice and others are being rightly punished. But not only has Solo not been suspended from her soccer team, she is being given a pass in the media and has retained her lucrative endorsements from such companies as Nike. What does this say about America as a society? Did we finally bring domestic abuse perpetrated by men out of the closet just to put domestic abuse by women in the closet? Is it wrong for men to engage in domestic abuse but acceptable for women to do the same thing. If domestic abuse is wrong—and it is—then it is wrong no matter who the perpetrator happens to be.
Frankly, I cannot find a pure motive in any of this. Roger Goodell’s main concern seems to be money: his own in the form of a paycheck and the dollars the NFL stands to lose if sales of commercials decline. The team owners seem to be concerned primarily about revenue and fan support. The media seems content to vilify male abusers while looking the other way on the Solo affair so it can avoid offending liberal feminists. What I don’t see in any of this is much in the way of real concern for the victims of domestic abuse. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Perhaps things haven’t really changed that much in America after all.