Sunday, August 13, 2017

The long shadow of Ray Rice

Well, they don't call the man Roger the Hammer for nothing. Even if it's frequently in the ironic sense.

No, Roger Goodell is dead serious about players who engage in domestic violence -- even if it's only alleged, and even if the corporate monolith he runs seems only to be sporadically dead serious about it.

Hence Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension for alleging knocking around his girlfriend, even if there are enough questions about the specific incident cited that the legal system chose not to charge him. The NFL, however, is not the legal system. Its standard for these things is different. And its action is based, apparently, not just on a specific incident but on a pattern of behavior that includes an incident during a St. Patrick's Day parade last March in which Elliott apparently pulled down a young woman's top and fondled her breast.

So, there's that.

There is also this: Ray Rice.

Whom the NFL wrist-tapped for two games after he slugged his now-wife in an elevator, then was embarrassed into upping the punishment after security footage of the incident surfaced. And so Rice was ultimately cast into outer darkness -- even after his wife apologized for her "role" in getting slugged in one of the saddest, strangest press conferences ever.

And the NFL?

It got slammed from all sides for its inconsistency, and for changing its disciplinary standard to reflect the level of public outrage. And even though Ray Rice is long gone from the league, the shadow of what he did in that elevator continues to inform the NFL's attitude toward domestic violence.

Which is: Optics are all.

The optic here is the NFL had to land on Elliott hard not because he violated the code of player conduct (of which there's abundant evidence he did, and serially), but because his alleged victim cooperated with the investigation by providing photos of her injuries.

Were those injuries inflicted by Elliott?

 It doesn't really matter, even though his pattern of behavior strongly suggests it.  What matters are the optics: A bruised-up woman vs. an NFL that seemed not to care a whole lot about Ray Rice slugging his significant other until video of him doing it turned up.

And so, Elliott gets a six-game ding. And there should be no surprise about that -- because, again, the NFL is a corporate monolith, and corporate monoliths act according to the sensibilities of the paying customers. And the paying customers weren't likely to be happy about it if the corporate monolith went easy in a domestic violence case in which it had visual evidence and a cooperative alleged victim.

This is especially true now, when league owners currently are blackballing an accomplished quarterback for his social activism. Going easy on Elliott would make it look as if the league had a bigger problem with a guy engaging in a peaceful act of symbolic protest than it did with players beating up women. Which, again, is not a good look.

Optics. It's all about optics.

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