Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Fashion Faux Pas

As published in The County Times ( in August 2014

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Unless you’ve been visiting methane sinkholes in Siberia, you know Ray Rice’s story. 
In February, the Baltimore Ravens running back assaulted his wife in an Atlantic City casino’s elevator.  The specific details are unknown, but the disturbing, viral video, one that depicted Rice dragging an unconscious woman from said elevator like a sack of dirty laundry, told the terrible story.  Rice, the tough, manly and now cowardly football player, raised his fist or elbow or knee or whatever and beat his wife so violently that she lost consciousness for a protracted period of time.  Rice’s act was disgusting and built a powder keg of raw public emotion; the NFL’s handling of it set the emotional bonfire ablaze. 

Since taking over as NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell has issued heavy-handed justice for player misconduct.  He’s been as strict as the nuns that taught me in grade school and his punishments have reminded me of dad’s when I couldn’t plead my case to mom first.  As the NFL investigation progressed, the world watched and waited for Judge Goodell’s decision.  His verdict wouldn’t just be about Ray Rice, it would provide hard evidence on the NFL’s position on domestic violence, particularly as compared to other player “crimes”, such as positive tests for banned substances (situations that routinely result in four game suspensions or more).

So this was a big deal – among Goodell’s most important decisions.  His verdict was delivered with a foam gavel: Rice would be suspended for two games.  The outcry was swift, loud and has been rightfully persistent.  It feels inconsistent with Goodell’s commitment to protecting “the shield” (the NFL’s iconic logo) and, more troubling, dismissive of violence against women. 

I’m not presenting anything here you likely didn’t already know.  You are probably equally disappointed in the NFL; you may even share my outrage.  But the league has spoken.  Rice, the same guy that knocked out his wife, will represent the NFL and the Ravens starting in week three of the 2014 season.  Nothing is going to change that.  What remains in question and beyond the bounds of the NFL’s substantial influence is our – the general population’s – processing of Rice’s penalty and eventually on-field presence.  Thus far, the returns have been disappointing - at least locally.

At a practice held on July 28 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Rice was cheered like a prodigal son returning from an unjust detainment.  That bothered me, initially, but I’ve grown to accept this quick, within-the-family indication of support.  If Rice is to pay his penance and restore his character (this was his first blemish), and if some good is to come of this terrible mess, he will need the city behind him. 

Here’s what I can’t accept: wearing his jersey. 

While dinning recently, Rice re-entered my thoughts when a young man clad in a Rice jersey-shirt settled in at an adjacent table.  My curiosity raced.  What compelled this guy to commit such an obvious fashion faux pas?  Does he have a wife or a girlfriend?  A sister?  He at least has a mother.  I have all of those (just a wife, no girlfriend…for the record) and when I critique Rice, I think of them.  Did he consider his jersey’s message or was he just concerned with beating the Pittsburgh Steelers this fall? 

I suppose the fan’s tendency is to segregate sports from the real world and broader causes.  The problem for that unsuspecting Rice fan is that I’ve made a column out of highlighting the undeniable link between the two.  Rice isn’t just a football player: he’s a symbol for a team, a city, the NFL and…society.  And right now that symbol says that domestic violence isn’t such a big deal.  Well, it is and offenders deserve more than a two-game suspension.  No one - not athletes, not politicians, not executives, not clergy – should have their greatness cheered and their transgressions ignored.  Ray Rice is a great football player with a fresh scar on his character.  Wearing his jersey now, after little more than an obligatory apology, feels like misplaced blind faith in an athlete with amends to make as a man.  

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