I am sure you have heard the latest in the sad and truly unsettling story of the Baltimore Ravens’ running-back, Ray Rice, who was recently suspended from the NFL for “domestic abuse.” In fact, the case goes back to July when a CCTV video clip showed Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée from an elevator in an Atlantic City hotel. Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner who claims unlimited power in these matters, suspended Rice for two games as punishment for the deed and then the proverbial shit hit the fan. The outrage over the film clip that was shown widely followed by the slap on Rice’s wrist was loud and clear. In light of the flack he had stirred up,  Goodell reneged and issued a new policy statement on Domestic Abuse with stiffer penalties that seemed sensible and calmed the waters somewhat.

But very recently another film clip was released showing Ray Rice striking his fiancée in the elevator, knocking her against the side of the elevator and falling unconscious to the floor. After this, he dragged the unconscious body out of the elevator and lowered her unceremoniously to the floor of the corridor outside. Suddenly the shit started to fly once more. Big Time! This time The Ravens football team cut their ties with the player and Goodell suspended him “indefinitely” from the NFL. Iron-Brain Mike Ditka, former Chicago Bears head coach, worried about Ray Rice’s future “earning power,” while others raised serious issues. One of those people was known to remark that the NFL seemed to be “reacting” rather than being “proactive.” Further, many wondered, were they reacting to Rice’s brutal behavior — or to the public reaction to that behavior that was becoming widespread with repeated showings of the film clip in television (ESPN has been known to exploit such incidents, ad nauseum)? It seemed clear that the latter was the case and many people expressed their disgust, not only with Rice, but with the NFL as well. But, for the most, part talking heads shied away from pointing the finger straight at Goodell and the NFL.

Until Keith Olbermann got in front of the cameras.

As this piece of must-see TV makes clear, Olbermann pulled no punches. He held not only the NFL but also everyone involved in the case, including the courts, responsible for covering up the truth. He called for the resignation or the firing of all concerned. He expressed the notion that the NFL was simply out to save the image of what has become America’s favorite sport and a billion-dollar industry to boot, and not the millions of women in the country who face the reality of domestic violence every day. The NFL fumbled the ball, according to Olbermann and they (and these who supposedly enforce justice) deserved to be punished accordingly. One knows that this will not happen, of course, since the reach of powerful corporations and the incredibly wealthy individuals in this “democracy” is far and effective. Their reach, in fact, raises many questions.

Why, for example, did the NFL claim not to have seen the latest video clip from within the elevator until TMZ released it to the public? Goodell claimed that if he had seen the clip the initial punishment of Rice would have been swift and fair, yet the hotel said the NFL never contacted them about the clip of the event. Further, a complete description of what had happened inside that elevator (if not the clip itself) was available not only to the prosecutors but also to the NFL. Why did the prosecutor not proceed with charges against Lewis after seeing the clip despite the fact that Rice’s fiancée (now his wife, if you can imagine) was unwilling to press charges? When Goodell interviewed Ray Rice about the incident, why did he insist that the victim accompany him — which flies in the face of every known procedure for fair and impartial judgment? Olbermann even suggested that Lewis’ wife might have appeared in support of her husband out of fear of another beating, which is not beyond the realm of possibility. As has been pointed out by legal analysts, the state does not require that the victim press charges, especially when there is visual evidence such as the clip of the incident actually occurring in the elevator. But nothing happened until the clip was released to the public and outrage was heard from one coast to the other.

Reacting rather than pro-acting. Very well put. But one expects that is business as usual for professional sports where the bottom line is all that really matters. Olbermann put it well. The people involved were more concerned about saving face than doing the right thing. This strikes me as symptomatic of a much larger problem we have in this country that almost certainly stems from our Business Mentality. This is our inability to consider possible outcomes and take measures to prevent problems before they arise. Instead, we focus on the short-term (profit) and are habitually involved in cleaning up the mess afterwards. This does not bode well for the future, given the many serious problems this country — and indeed the world — faces.

Super Athletes

Now that the Baltimore Ravens have won their second Super Bowl it might be well for us to reflect on an incident that occurred the year before Baltimore won its first Super Bowl. After a night of drinking, Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis and a couple of his friends were involved in the death of two young men outside a bar. Lewis made a “deal” with prosecutors by providing evidence against the other two men who were involved in the knifing of the young men and he got off with a slap on the wrist. The NFL then fined him $250,000 and suspended him from football for a year. Since that time he has presented himself as a changed man, helping young people live their dream, so he says. Some might even say he has redeemed himself. I wonder: redemption involves contrition, it seems to me.

In an interview prior to this year’s Super Bowl, Lewis answered a question by Shannon Sharpe about those killings 13 years ago. Lewis’ response, as reported by Yahoo News,  was garbled and it raised more questions than it answered:

It’s simple,” Lewis said when Sharpe asked him what he would say to the families [of the two slain men].
“God has never made a mistake. That’s just who He is, you see. And if our system – it’s the sad thing about our system – if our system took the time to really investigate what happened 13 years ago, maybe they would have got to the bottom line truth. But the saddest thing ever was that a man looked me in my face and told me, ‘We know you didn’t do this, but you’re going down for it anyway.’ To the family, if you knew, if you really knew the way God works, he don’t use people who commits anything like that for His glory. No way. It’s the total opposite.”

Aside from the terrible grammar which we have come to expect from those college graduates who play football, this answer, as Boomer Esiason noted on a CBS pre-game show, was hardly satisfactory. Esiason was quite blunt:

“He was involved in a double murder and I’m not so sure he gave us all the answers we were looking for,” Esiason said. “He knows what went on there. He can obviously just come out and say it. He doesn’t want to say it. He paid off the families – I get all that, that’s fine. . . . I appreciate you [Sharpe] going down there and asking him that direct question. I’m not so sure I buy the answer.”

Lewis blames the “system” for failing to get to the bottom of things. That system let the two men Lewis testified against go free because of insufficient evidence and charged Lewis himself with a misdemeanor. The murder has never been solved and the parents of the two slain youths still burn with hatred and anger at Lewis for the role he played in the death of their sons, whatever that might have been. He has nothing to say to the parents of the two men, apparently.

But, once again, we hear the bromide: “God never made a mistake.” It’s not Ray’s doing, somehow, it’s God’s doing. And He wouldn’t make a “mistake.” He wouldn’t have allowed Ray Lewis to become so successful if he had done those terrible things. That’s not how things work — at least according to Lewis. And one does wonder where Ray Lewis got his theology degree and how he knows what God would or would not do. But that consideration aside, we cannot help but note that Lewis never really answers the question what happened that night outside the bar. We may never know, but we can be certain that Lewis does.

In my view, Ray Lewis is the personification of what is wrong in professional sports — and we see it in the case of a number of other famous athletes who are never asked to account for their actions. But as long as they continue to win we forgive them. We ask only that they light up the field or the golf course, not that they live exemplary lives — despite the fact that these people are the only heroes our kids will ever know. That’s the way the culture works: it places athletes on a pedestal and insists that we give them their due homage. We adulate people because of what they can do in the sports arena or how much money they earn, not what kind of people they are. Ray Lewis will undoubtedly make it into the Football Hall of Fame. He was a great player, but is not much of a man.