What the NFL Knew

It’s been a long two days for NFL superstar and women’s MMA champion Ray Rice. Yesterday, Rice was released from the Baltimore Ravens and suspended from the NFL indefinitely after TMZ released a video of him battering his then-girlfriend (now wife) in a hotel elevator.

The NFL has been aware of the incident for several months and previously slapped Rice with a two-game suspension, which many decried as far too light. Until yesterday the Ravens stood by Rice, with plans to have him back on the field as soon as his suspension is up.

Of course, a video changes everything. The public outrage that ensued upon the public release of the video could not be ignored, and both the league and the team took swift action. The question that will probably never be answered is whether the NFL had seen the surveillance video prior to its public release. The league claims that they had not, while numerous sports media outlets have indicated that reliable sources say otherwise. It’s the big question, but I have no idea why.

Who cares if the NFL saw the video prior to its public release? All that the video shows us is what the NFL – and the general public – already knew happened. Rice never denied that he beat his fiancé, and the NFL handed down a light punishment on that basis. The fact that we can now watch what happened doesn’t change what happened, and it also doesn’t change the fact that we already knew it happened. What the hell did everyone think a man hitting a woman would look like? Sure it’s unpleasant to watch, but the video definitely does not have a surprise ending.

No matter when they first saw the video, the NFL knows nothing today that they didn’t know several months ago. The NFL’s response to the video – regardless of whether they’d seen it before – is not a response to Rice’s actual actions or to the video itself. It’s a response to public outrage over the video. In that sense it’s a reminder that professional sports are not so different from any other customer-based business. As long as their public is satisfied they’ve done their job.

There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, unless you think of the NFL as an entity that should take it upon itself to uphold moral standards and mete out justice. The problem is that’s exactly what the NFL holds itself up to be when it comes to disciplining its players. So the NFL got it right – not with its first reaction to Rice’s actions, but with its second. They just got it right for the wrong reasons.

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