By Richelle Carey
Originally posted on The Huffington Post:
So here we are. Just a few days after the National Football League’s Hall of Fame weekend.
A weekend about the best-of-the-best for the NFL. But instead of focusing on exemplifying superior standards, the league is acting shamelessly. Most would agree the NFL’s response to the fact that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocked out a woman is a morally weak and arrogant one.
If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell holds second thoughts about suspending Rice for two games for this confessed act of domestic violence, he sure isn’t letting on. Addressing questions from the media in Canton, Goodell said, “You know, you have a lot of people voicing their opinions, but I think it’s important to understand that this is a young man who made a terrible mistake. [Rice’s actions are] inconsistent with what we’re all about, and we’ve dealt with it in a serious manner, and we’re very confident that this young man understands where he is and what he needs to do going forward.” He went on to say, “We have to remain consistent. We can’t just make up the discipline. It has to be consistent with other cases, and it was in this matter.”
Goodell and the NFL do not demonstrate a true understanding of the gravity of domestic violence, even if it’s one terrible mistake as Rice, the Ravens, and Goodell have described it.
And make no mistake: The NFL knows what accountability looks like. TRUE accountability. Just ask Michael Vick.
We all know what happened when Vick was arrested on dog-fighting charges. In 2007, the man who was one of the faces of the NFL was “indefinitely suspended” for his role in an illegal dog-fighting ring. He ended up serving 19 months of a 23-month federal prison sentence. He was, of course, reinstated to the game. As Deadspin points out, the suspension in reality ended up being two games. Still, the NFL’s initial “indefinite suspension” conveyed the gravity of his actions. That punishment clearly conveyed the stance that violence against animals won’t be tolerated.
What about accountability for acts of violence against women?
And it took Ray Rice twice to do better. Still not right … but better. He may very well be on the path to being accountable for his actions.
Thursday Rice spoke to the press for the second time about what happened with his wife. You know, knocking her out.
THIS time he addressed the media without the victim by his side. Rice apologized to her and spoke of HER pain and how it affected his mother, his in-laws, his community. Yes, domestic violence affects the victims and those who care about them. He got that part right. Rice said, “Anyone who has been through any kind of domestic violence … it has no place in society, in this world.” He went on to say, “I have to own them actions.”
Dick Bathrick of Men Stopping Violence says where Rice could have done better is truly owning those actions. Saying “that’s not who I am” misses the mark. Bathrick explains: “It’s true that it doesn’t define him as a man but like many men, when you disown the part of you that disrespects women, and the part of you that then acts on that disrespect, it’s a slippery slope to denial, minimization, and ultimately blaming others for your abusive choices.” Bathrick goes on to say, “Changing the beliefs that fuel one’s abuse of women, including the women we claim to love the most, is a life-long process and it starts with owning, not disowning all of whom we are.”
That type of authentic, sometimes painful accountability is a process that begins with actions. One domestic violence survivor told me, “Ray Rice’s words mean nothing unless he now backs them up with action. It takes significant adjustments to rectify significant abusive behavior. He can hold a press conference every week and I wouldn’t be impressed.”
Maybe this is a beginning for Rice. Time will tell.
But who still does not seem to get it is Goodell, the man who protects the SHIELD. The man who hands out four-game suspensions for smoking marijuana–something that is legal in some states. Goodell claims he’s “being consistent.” How about consistently sending a message to players and fans that violence against women won’t be tolerated?
Next chance to get it right? Carolina Panthers wide receiver Greg Hardy. He was found guilty of assaulting and threatening his ex-girlfriend. Hardy has apologized. Not for the violence, but for being a “distraction” to this team.
Your move, Commissioner.