The Right Thing—Finally

Monday September 8th, 2014

Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should all be ashamed of themselves. And even though it appears that, in this moment of great public scorn, the Ravens did the right thing by terminating Rice’s contract and Goodell by suspending Rice indefinitely, the shame won't subside anytime soon. They’ve all lost a good measure of credibility.

The Ravens really had no other choice in the wake of TMZ's release of the horrific elevator video showing Rice hitting his then-fiancée (now wife) Janay Palmer in the head, knocking her unconscious. There was no way that Rice could come off his mere two-game suspension and rejoin the Ravens on Friday. Even six games under the new domestic-violence policy would not have been enough. Considering how everyone screwed this up from beginning to end, the only road for all involved was for Rice to be exiled from the league. If Richie Incognito could effectively be sent packing for his role in the Dolphins’ bullying scandal, Rice deserved at least as much.

But any punishment will not and should not erase the earlier missteps. Rice, the Ravens and Goodell had a chance to do the right thing from the outset, but they didn’t. It really shouldn’t be this hard. It’s football. I don’t care how much money the NFL makes or how your fantasy team performed, humanity trumps all.

Nothing will be the same for Rice, the Ravens and Goodell. It shouldn’t be.

Rice and I both graduated from Rutgers. For years I have been beyond proud of him. Rice had a sterling reputation for his off-field efforts, and  many times I have held him up to my children as a shining example of how to do things the right way. Now I’m going to explain to my son and daughter why Rice should not be playing football, because he hit his wife.

Rutgers needs to cut all ties with Rice. That hurts. He’s the most successful football player the school has ever produced, but it needs to happen. Colleges are in the business of educating young people, in the classroom and about life. When I’m sitting at High Point Solutions Stadium on Saturday night, watching Rutgers’ first-ever Big Ten game against Penn State, I do not want to see Rice’s face on the “Knights in the NFL” scoreboard segment again. Rice used to get the loudest cheers. Always. Now we need to turn our back on him until Rice receives and endures the proper punishment.

ray-rice-360 Ray Rice. (The Philadelphia Inquirer/Tom Gralish/AP)

As for the Ravens, between Ray Lewis (who just had a statue unveiled outside the stadium) and Rice, they’ve stood by players who pleaded guilty to obstructing justice during a double murder investigation (Lewis), and now a player who, without question at this point, struck his fiancée and caused her to be rendered unconscious.

I get loyalty. I get the misguided sense of family (football teams aren’t real families, since you can choose your family in football and do so every day). We also live in a civilized society, which should take precedence over how good someone can tackle or run the football.

The Ravens’ reaction to Rice’s incident was embarrassing. During training camp I spoke with a Ravens official who was briefed on the elevator video seen by security personnel in New Jersey. The Ravens were told they “wouldn’t feel any worse about Rice” if they were to see the video, and that it might cause them to see the incident in a new light. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Regardless of whether the Ravens saw the video or not, they need to look in the mirror and realize that their reaction was not proper in relation to the general public, which they serve. From Rice’s initial “press conference” without questions, to this column by Kevin Byrne, the Senior Vice President for Public & Community Relations, the Ravens need to take a step back and examine their missteps. Going forward, the Ravens need to give themselves the benefit of distance in these high-profile cases. They should hire a private, independent investigator to give them unbiased recommendations. It’s obvious that owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome were too close to Rice to make the correct decision.

As for Goodell and the league office, their credibility took a huge hit in regards to the video. Whether they saw it before Monday or not doesn’t really matter in the end, because it ends up in the same place: ineptitude. If they saw the video and thought two games was the proper suspension for Rice, they failed. If they didn’t push to see the video before reaching their original decision, they also failed.

The NFL released a statement that said they requested the video from law enforcement but it was not provided. Why didn’t Goodell indefinitely suspend Rice until the video was produced? Any suspensions levied by Goodell under the personal conduct policy, past and present, are now called into question. What key evidence was he missing in other cases?

This is a dark day for Rice, the Ravens, Goodell and the NFL. They’ll never be seen the same way again. Even though it’s never too late to do the right thing, they had a chance to get it right from the outset and failed. That should not be forgotten.

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