Fantasy football is in full swing, but one infelicitous hit will dominate the NFL’s opening weekend. The NFL suspended Ray Rice, a Super Bowl champion and three-time Pro Bowler, after TMZ released a disturbing video of him punching his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in a New Jersey casino earlier this year. The video showed Rice, a 220-pound, rock-solid NFL running back, punching his fiancée in the face, knocking her unconscious.
Minutes after the video released, “Black Twitter” exploded. I was confused. Then I tried to remember if I saw “Black Twitter” explode when the first video was released in February. You know, the video of him dragging Palmer’s unconscious body of an elevator in that New Jersey casino. After the incident, Rice was arrested, charged, and released on a simple assault charge back in February. We all knew what happened in that elevator. Did we really need to see it on TMZ and confirm the horrifying details?
Fantasy vs. Reality
Ray Rice is not on my fantasy team. I placed him on my “Do Not Draft” list after I saw a video of him dragging Palmer out of that elevator. I couldn’t justify having a guy on my team who would do something like that to a woman. But this is bigger than fantasy. It’s bigger than the number of points he can put up for a team. Or is it?
Fantasy value normally reflects a player’s real value. Ray Rice got paid because of his ability to put up numbers. He was a franchise player for the Baltimore Ravens, the tenth richest team in the NFL and a franchise worth about $1.5 billion dollars. He was set to make $4 million this season and $3 million in each of the next two seasons. He was suspended for two games for that February incident. His team stood behind the two-game suspension, citing that he had made a mistake. Coach John Harbaugh called him “a heck of a guy.”
The Baltimore Ravens cut him today and the NFL suspended him indefinitely after the release of the TMZ video. I never thought I’d live in a world where TMZ would become a champion of social justice. The first video was worth a two-game suspension—laughable, I know. The second video finally forced the hands of both the Ravens organization and NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell.
Ray Rice was no longer a heck of a guy. He was no longer the franchise guy. He was a PR nightmare that they needed to “get ahead of” to save the franchise and the league. How’d the franchise and league go from supporting to ostracizing Rice after the release of a video that only confirmed what they already knew? They knew about the Ubiquitous Black Athlete.
The Ubiquitous Black Athlete
Ray Rice became a ubiquitous black athlete some time after a successful three-year career at Rutgers. The Baltimore Ravens drafted him in the second round of the NFL draft. A year later, he started 15 games and was elected to his first Pro Bowl. The Ravens had found their guy.
William C. Rhoden, author of Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete, might argue that they’d found their “guy.” Here’s the crux of his argument in the book:
Integration in sports—as opposed to integration at the ballot box or in public conveyances—was a winning proposition for the whites who controlled the sports-industrial complex. They could move to exploit black muscle and talent, thus sucking the life out of black institutions, while at the same time giving themselves credit for being humanitarians.
It would appear, to some, that the credit for being humanitarians in Rice’s case wasn’t enough to overcome the public relationships tidal wave headed toward Baltimore and the NFL as organizations. So they both decided to act—a day late and a dollar short in my book.
It’s Not “Just Weed”
The NFL and the Ravens organization betrayed the trust of every victim of domestic violence back in July when they “handed down” Rice’s two-game suspension. It was a slap in the face for anyone who has experienced abuse at the hand of a spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, or significant other. Josh Gordon was suspended an entire year for abusing his own body (he failed a marijuana test); Ray Rice was suspended two games for abusing another person’s body. In Gordon’s case, the NFL said, “It’s not just weed, bro. It’s deeper than that.” In Rice’s case, the NFL effectively said, “It was just an unconscious black female. It could have been worse.” I’m being a bit facetious, but if billion-dollar organizations gloss over domestic violence issues like this, then who is going to stand up to declare their wrongness?
I sure will. It was wrong in February when we didn’t see the actual punch. It’s wrong today. It’s wrong forever. No man should ever hit a woman. We didn’t need a video to tell us this. We certainly didn’t need TMZ to do it either. But if God can use an ass to speak in Scripture, I’m sure he can use TMZ to speak when his people are silent. Let’s continue to pray for all victims of domestic violence—trending or not—because it’s a reality that many unheard voices face every day.