Ray Rice and the Politics of American Sports


As an NBA hoops fan, I normally stick to basketball when it comes to controversy in sports. Needless to say, I was all over the calamity that was Donald T. Sterling and his final days as owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

But for one reason or another, we were all continuously fed a large unhealthy dose of political sports entertainment this off-season. Whether it came from the tabloid pages, the sports sections of newspaper or the political pages of our national news media, sports figures couldn’t stay out of the headlines.

Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the ongoing saga of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, most sports fans are by now aware of the video showing him slugging his thenfiancée, now-wife Janay Palmer, and dragging her unconscious body outside of an Atlantic City hotel elevator.  There are so many tangents spinning out of this one incident that this saga alone will long outlive its typical media life cycle. That’s because the associated issues must move through the legal system at their own individual paces.

By now, most of us are somewhat familiar with the names of the four men who represent the first set of these so-called tangents: Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers ; Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers; Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings, and now Jonathan Dwyer of the Arizona Cardinals. All were involved in unrelated incidents that included some form of domestic abuse. However, in a classic case of bad timing meets bad luck, all of them can now look to the Ray Rice-Janay Palmer controversy as the single common denominator with the biggest impact on their collective fates, both on the playing field and in the courtrooms.

Given the newly inflated social and legal consequences now facing professional athletes anyone who’s deemed a perpetrator, the legal maneuvering could, in some cases, continue endlessly. In fact, if the current media-fed frenzy manages to sustain itself, then inevitably more individuals will be outed, and then compared-to, or contrasted-against our new-found standard for domestic abuse. Harsh? Perhaps, Necessary? Perhaps.

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  • Speaking of maneuvering, it will be interesting to see how/if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell dances his way through this minefield of which he now finds himself squarely in the middle. If he manages to save his job, then his success will be due partly to the resolve of NFL owners to keep him in place, and partly to the historically erratic attention-spans of the news media and the public at large.

    In an ironic twist, the consequences of reaching this nirvana would mean that the only parties paying serious attention by then would be those who were directly affected. That would include the victims, the perpetrators, local fans, their respective franchises, and of course their local judicial systems. Coincidentally, this is most likely how every one of these domestic abuse issues would have played out if it weren’t for the Ray Rice video.

    After all, here we are late in the month of September when Rice hit his fiancée in that hotel elevator in February. It was late July when Dwyer allegedly assaulted his wife and child; and McDonald was first arrested for domestic abuse in late May, and late August when he was arrested again for an alleged second offense.

    The point here is before that fateful September 8th day when that elevator video went viral, very few non-football fans knew the names Ray McDonald, Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson, Jonathan Dwyer, or even Ray Rice for that matter. That’s because back then, the only folks who cared were the victims, the perpetrators, local fans, their respective franchises, and of course their local judicial systems.