Ray Rice faced the world and took responsibility for his actions regarding the domestic violence incident involving his wife, Janay Palmer. Meanwhile, Roger Goodell failed to own up to the mistakes made on his part and on the part of the billion-dollar sports empire he oversees.
Offering up excuses that fell short and far wide of the goal, Goodell has further entrenched the NFL in the pathological abuse of women. He emphasized continuously the need to be consistent in the punishments given to players who found themselves in similar domestic violence incidents as Rice. But therein lies the absurdity of Goodell and the NFL’s obsession with consistency in the first place.
Consistency is what got us here. In the midst of Peyton Manning’s weekly dismantling of opposing defenses last season, a larger more insidious storyline emerged. Jonathan Martin, a starting offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins, walked out of practice and off his team after being subjected to daily harassment, racial slurs and threats by fellow teammate Richie Incognito. In the weeks that followed, we learned about many of Incognito’s locker room antics and misdeeds that ultimately led to his dismissal from the Dolphins for the remainder of the season.
Couched deeply in the fiasco was a storyline that did not receive national attention or elicit grounds for dismissal of the team. In fact, the situation might have never seen the light of day if not for the closer examination of Incognito’s past following his transgressions against Martin. During the 2012 offseason, Richie Incognito was accused and investigated for sexually harassing a volunteer at a Dolphins golf tournament.
The victim alleged that Incognito sexually harassed her using a golf club, inappropriately touching her body in all of the places you can imagine he would. The harassment continued further according to the police report: “After that, he proceeded to lean up against her buttocks with his private parts as if dancing saying, ‘Let it rain! Let it rain!’ He finally finished his inappropriate behavior by emptying bottled water in her face.”
No charges were filed. Incognito was rewarded that off-season by being named team captain.
A year prior on Dec. 1, 2012 , Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and mother of his child, Kasandra Perkins, shooting her nine times before driving to the Chiefs practice facility and killing himself. Much was discussed of Belcher and the pressures felt by NFL stars. CTE was suggested as a contributing factor by an the NFL community that had yet to find the disease serious enough to provide health insurance to former players suffering from symptoms of the deadly disease. Belcher was memorialized and remembered, sideline reporters were dispatched to gain a sense of team morale and reaction to the sudden and tragic death of an NFL player.
All but forgotten, in less than 24 hours, was Perkins — an innocent victim of a violent and heinous crime. By weeks end she wasn’t mentioned at all. Little was mentioned, too, of the 21 out of 32 teams who employed a player with domestic violence or sexual assault on his record, as reported by the San Diego Union Tribune in 2012.
The issues are not new and the behavior not infrequent. The consistency which Goodell clung to in his defense has led to the abuse, sexual harassment and killing of women by players driven by unchecked egos, male-centric thinking and rewarded misogyny.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the NFL’s arrest rate of domestic violence is more than four times worse than the league’s arrest rate for all offenses. Domestic violence sadly accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players.
(Sidebar: Of course, this data is based solely on arrests. Not to make assumptions, but in a league where domestic abuse is such a critical issue, it’s largely possible that any number of domestic issues goes unreported each year.)
The discussion goes above and beyond comparison to testing positive for banned substances. Who cares? False equivalencies go out the window when we are talking about human life. Ultimately, women in society are only humanized when viewed through the lens of wife, mother or daughter.
The failure by the NFL to respect women that fall outside of a possessive connection to men or a relationship that benefits them seems painfully difficult.
The rules should be clear as day. Domestic abuse to anyone — man or woman, in any shape or form — is unacceptable behavior. If players truly are role models, enlisted to encourage kids to become physically active, if their social impact is such that they are frequently featured in Make A Wish montages, and if this league truly desires to be at the forefront of our pop culture, then let’s please hold them accountable.
This week the Ravens saw it fit to feature Rice on the homepage of their official website — a display of solidarity. But praise of a player involved in a serious debate has to evolve past comparing the situation to previous suspensions or contrasting it against minor offenses.
Would the Ravens feature a player involved in a murder or the kidnapping of a child?
Goodell should have saved us all some time and told the truth about his league. The NFL is culpable for breeding an environment where domestic violence is consistently rewarded. He has no intentions on changing that.
Kwame Belle (@Mr_Belle) is a staff writer for The High Screen.