Many of you will not believe what I write today, for the simple reason that it is written. You want video. Video is truth; words are disputable. Somehow, in the last 30 years, we got to this point—people can write whatever they want, but we won’t really believe it unless we see video evidence. And while video is everywhere, we haven’t actually made any progress.
We so firmly believe in what we see on video that we do not ask for surrounding context or circumstance. And because so much of human activity is recorded these days, anything that isn’t on video, by nature, elicits skepticism. If there’s no video evidence, did it really happen?
This brings us to the cases of Josh Brown and Ray Rice, two professional football players and domestic abusers. As even non-football fans know, Rice was suspended for two games for cold-cocking his fiancée, Janay Palmer, in a casino elevator. Then TMZ published security footage of the punch. Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely, the Ravens released him, and both claimed, with mixed credibility, that they had not seen the video. Why did it matter? ESPN described the act in great detail months earlier. The video just confirmed what Goodell had to know. But it took the video to force him to act.
And then there is Brown. His team left for London Thursday, but he did not join them, after New Jersey Advanced Media reported that Brown admitted abusing his ex-wife Molly. Giants owner John Mara said today that Brown had “admitted to us he'd abused his wife in the past. What's a little unclear is the extent of that.”
The NFL had previously suspended him for one game, instead of the league-mandated six for domestic violence, largely because Molly Brown wouldn’t talk to the NFL. The Giants re-signed him last year.
What did the NFL know, and when did it know it? The better question: What did the NFL believe, and why did it believe it?
We already knew that Molly Brown accused Josh of being violent with her more than 20 times, including while she was pregnant, according to various reports. Why did league officials need her to talk to them? She had already spoken to police. Did they think she was lying to the cops but would tell the NFL the truth?
This most recent news that Brown admitted to the abuse in letters should not have been news to the NFL. In August, New Jersey Advanced Media wrote: “Brown's ex-wife told the detective Brown sent a letter to friends in April of 2014 where he admitted to abusive behavior toward his ex-wife.”
That report did not prompt much outrage. Thursday, the Giants claimed they were unaware his letters and journals existed. Never mind that it was reported in their local newspaper two months ago. That was just a written story about a letter. Reports about a letter don’t move us. Video does.
We have this continuum of evidence we believe, with video on one end and written facts on the other. There is still no known video of Brown beating his wife. But the absence of video explains the minimal outrage until this week. It explains why the NFL and the Giants thought he belonged back on the field. It took Brown’s own words to jar everybody out of their sleep.
Ray Rice’s career effectively ended the day his video became public. No team will risk signing a guy who was caught on video punching his wife. I understand that; nobody can defend Rice’s actions, including Rice. But he isn’t a pariah because he punched his wife. He is a pariah because he punched his wife and it was caught on video.
Meanwhile, Greg Hardy was accused of … well, I wouldn’t say worse, because that might imply that Rice’s punch was somehow “better.” There is no “better” here. But Hardy was accused of viciously abusing girlfriend Nicole Holder. SI explained the accusations in great detail, and wrote that there were police photos to back them up. But public outrage did not swell until Deadspin published the actual photos. It wasn’t video, but it was close enough.
And if somebody had written a story in May about Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil smoking marijuana in college, he probably would have been a top-five pick. But when video of Tunsil smoking pot through a gas mask went viral on draft night, he fell to No. 13. Never mind that it was the same act (or that there are avid pot-smokers on every NFL team). The video resonated. It scared teams. It became our image of Tunsil.
It’s easy to slam the NFL and the Giants for not caring about domestic violence. It’s just as likely that they believe what they see, and confuse it with what they know. Thursday, the world learned that Josh Brown is a domestic abuser. But really, we knew that before. We just didn’t believe it because we hadn’t seen it. It’s sad that we needed Brown to tell us that sometimes, we don’t need a video to know the truth.