Abuse in the NFL and the Public: a few thoughts…

As I relax and get ready for a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, I’m going through Facebook and my news feeds, and finding myself thinking in a few different, yet equal, directions.  This seems to be true of the NFL today, albeit in a different, uncool manner:  some situations in the last couple of weeks which has become thoroughly disgusting, yet warrants a lot of discussion.  I’m not going to judge these players anymore than I already have – I think it’s more appropriate for the legal system, as well as their job, to decide that.  (For the record, you can safely say that I’m all for the firing of Roger Goodall, whose lack of caring about the players, their families, and the public perception of football and the NFL leaves him unfit to lead a mouse circus, let alone one of the largest sports industries in the world.)  Read on for my thoughts.

Role Models.  Remember Charles Barkley, back when he was an NBA player?  He’s played for the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Houston Rockets between 1984-2000, playing against Michael Jordan’s Bulls for the NBA Finals in 1993 (and losing), and played as part of the Dream Teams in 1992 and 1996.  He’s currently a commentator for basketball on TNT, and is known for his commentary on and off the court.  (If you haven’t figured out who he is, click the link.)

There was a big controversy in 1993 when Dan Quayle criticized his Nike commercial and public comments saying that “I am not a role model.”  He is quoted as saying (via his wikipedia page):

I think the media demands that athletes be role models because there’s some jealousy involved. It’s as if they say, this is a young black kid playing a game for a living and making all this money, so we’re going to make it tough on him. And what they’re really doing is telling kids to look up to someone they can’t become, because not many people can be like we are. Kids can’t be like Michael Jordan.

This was back during a time in which a few players in the NBA were getting into similar problems with the public and the law, and before the NBA would have a crackdown on the league.

While I’ve agreed with his message that kids should be looking up to the adults around them as opposed to the celebrities we see on TV, there’s a huge, fundamental flaw with his logic:  We can only choose our own actions, thoughts and beliefs.  We can’t control how or if the kids or the people around us or who view or experience us  mimic, copy, or form opinions about us.  You can’t tell someone not to look up to you and expect them to listen – people are, sad to say, humans.  They’re not robots who you can instruct and expect to follow.

Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and Greg Hardy  certainly forgot their roles as “role models” to the public.  Their off-field actions that has resulted in disciplinary actions against them aren’t what anyone should mimic, aren’t what anyone should learn or copy.  Their athletic accomplishments are now marred by their violent actions against their loved ones, against the people they’re putting bread and butter on the table for and for whom they are supposed to help raise.

It doesn’t matter our occupation, our fame (or lack thereof), our ages, genders, or other uncontrollables, or our wealth – we as people don’t get direct say over how others see and perceive us.  I can’t tell you that you have to like everything I do, or think that I am the awesomest God this side of Boobo.  (If you were with me in the philosophy class I am taking tonight, you would get the reference.)  The most I can do is act according to how I want others to see me, and worry about the things I do, knowing that someone else may see me as someone important.

This is what these players need to remember as well – no matter how all of this comes out for them, they still have influence over how others see him.  Just ask Michael Vick, whose public image isn’t nearly as bad as it was when he was arrested and eventually convicted of dog fighting.

The Importance of the Video:  Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension from the public release of the video sparked a lot of outrage on the way the NFL and the Ravens handle domestic abuse.  It sparked another dispute, however:  the public necessity of needing to see the video, or should the video have been released to the public.

This isn’t the first time a video’s release caused public outrage; in 1992, upon the acquittal of the police officers who were shown on videotape (that was broadcast by all of the news outlets of the time) to have beat Rodney King, Los Angeles erupted into a riot that lasted almost a week, had the national guard brought in, caused 53 deaths and between $800 million and $1 billion in damage.  More recently the shooting of an unarmed teen in Ferguson brought bigger riots, various videos have got politicians in trouble with the public (and, sometimes, the law.)  It was one person’s video capturing Romney’s “47 percent” remarks that helped to kill his presidential campaign.

It was tabloid news show TMZ that exposed both videotapes to the public, and each got a reaction.  When the first video was released showing Rice dragging his soon-to-be-wife out of the elevator, he was suspended for 2 games by the NFL, which sparked public outcry while causing a debate upon fans. (I was one of them that questioned the legitimacy of said videotape – it’s easy to assume a number of things from it other than what actually happened.)  It took the release of the second video for Rice to be dismissed from the Ravens and suspended indefinitely from the NFL – which, thanks to the players association, he is now appealing.

The difficult argument is whether public should see either video, which shows said fiancee getting knocked unconscious and thus unable to defend herself from him.  It does raise an interesting conundrum, because without those tapes going public, Rice would be playing in the NFL today, with little to no punishment whatsoever – yet, at the same time, shows the victim in a less-than-appealing circumstance, leaving her open to the very trolls who (a.) blame her for the incident, (b.) still question the legitimacy of the incident, and (c.) attack her because of the incident.

The first problem is that we, as people, should never have HAD to see it in the first place.  This should have been handled properly by the legal system and by the NFL, who should have had say because of the money and fame involved.  The only way that action did happen was that the videos were released to the public, where an outcry was made and that finally sparked action.  Unfortunately, inaction created necessity – to spark change, people needed to see that something was wrong in the first place.

The bigger question, then is if we still need to see it – and this is more difficult to gauge.   On the one hand, showing that video still shows her in a compromised light, and has garnered comments that attack her unfairly.  On the other hand, it’s those very comments – and the insensitivity of those watching and making them – that shows the necessity of viewing them.  How do we go about attacking that attitude that these people have – that it’s okay to abuse others – if we don’t confront them with the evidence that proves their arguments false, that proves a multitude of problems in the NFL today?

Abuse should never be tolerated by anyone, no matter how big or small, what age, race or gender they are, no matter how famous or rich they are.  Hopefully the next incident won’t necessitate a video showing another victim in a compromised situation – but we should be prepared, since we now have evidence of the NFL’s inability to police and discipline its players, for the eventual videos showing further injustices.  We shouldn’t have to see the evidence to expect the right actions.  One can only hope we learn from this.

The Public Judgment of Injustice:  This last thought and argument stems across a wide variety of news items, and is not necessarily tied to the NFL.  In fact, you could tie it to anything sparking debate or anger:  the actions of our president and congress, the recent punishment of a mother who starved her son to death, the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, etc.  Almost always, however, it starts at arrest.

If you read on any of the various feeds on Facebook and twitter, you’ll find someone who’s arrested for some dumb B.S.  BEFORE that person is released from jail, BEFORE they can have a trial, people are already clamoring for their execution, looking to punish them in any way, shape or form.  The worse the crime or the larger the fame, the worse it gets.

In some ways, this reaction helped get proper action taken by the NFL and their teams upon video release – it’s easy to speculate and debate the guilt of a man when the evidence isn’t in the public eye.  On the other hand, no one has seen the text messages Peterson sent, the switched used to whip his boy, or the marks they left on him – yet the public is demanding more of a punishment from the NFL, who’ve yet to intervene in his matter.  (The suspension, as far as I know, was the team’s action.)

To go back to what I said earlier, we have no control over how the public sees us – we can influence that judgment, but by no means is it directly controlled.

That being said, we have a legal process by which to go, act, and live by, that has a system in place to discern the truth and – when -necessary- deal out a fitting punishment.  That system needs to gather all of the evidence and commentary, including the confession by Peterson of his actions, and present it to a judge.  Whatever the judge decides, we should learn to respect.

Yet, all too often, a person’s guilty in the public eye before they go to court.

We can’t blame people for this – all too often, people we let have authority over us such as the government and our bosses abuse our trust and turn against us, either punishing us harsher than others or not punishing some people who truly deserve it.   Had those 4 cops I mentioned in the 1992 court case not been acquitted, would the L.A. Riots happen?  Would those who died on September 11th perish had the government acted on what information they had, or would the victims of Hurricane Katrina suffered and died had our government taken proper action to prepare them for the storm, or assisted them immediately afterwards?  It seems sometimes we can onl;y go a few days before we hear of another abuse of power or negligence on the proper handling of a situation.

Maybe we need to fix the way we get information – that is, when the evidence is presented in court or to a company, or when information is presented to our leaders and trusted officials, we should be privy to that same information as well.  Maybe full disclosure will help to earn back the public’s trust and help them understand the situation in full.

However, maybe, since we are all in control of our reactions to these things, we can wait until we get enough information before we rush to judgment in the first place.  We should definitely cry out when an injustice happens, definitely call foul when fouls are made – but in cases involving a legal system or a code of conduct, we should wait until the powers that be execute their actions and present argument first.  In other words, for Adrian Peterson, who has already confessed to whipping his boy, we should still wait until the legal system acts first.

Under law, we have the rights to a fair and expedient trial, the right to be judged based on actions and evidence, and the right to provide evidence of our innocence.  We are considered “innocent until proven guilty” in a court of law – We should start acting like this outside of the law.

Of and for the record:  if you missed it the number of times I said it:  ABUSE IS WRONG.  It doesn’t matter if it’s to a spouse or your kids, or who it’s done by – even if it’s the public.  I don’t know what these men did anymore than anyone else:  I’ve seen the videos, so I know Rice is guilty there, but Peterson and Hardy I know no more than what the media has mentioned in the past couple of weeks.  I can also only judge the NFL, and Roger Goodall, based only on the actions I’ve seen in the news.  If all of this causes change in the NFL’s handling of abuse, great; if it sparks change in ourselves, even better.

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