As Roger Goodell and the NFL try feverishly to dig out of the dirty hole that is the Ray Rice domestic-violence case, at least something positive has come out of the fiasco: That video of Rice knocking out his fiancée has made everyone understand just how horrific domestic abuse is and perhaps how lightly the NFL has viewed it over the years.
“Unfortunately, we had to see an incident that elevated our awareness to really get to the right place,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday. “It’s unfortunate we have to learn the hard way.”
It seems crazy that people did not understand what Rice had done until they actually saw the second video. What possibly could have been the precursor to the first video, in which he is seen dragging an unconscious Janay Palmer out of the elevator? Rice admitted he hit her, which is why he was charged, placed into a diversion program and suspended by Goodell.
But that second video sent shockwaves through the NFL and for some reason changed the way everyone viewed domestic violence.
The Baltimore Ravens and Goodell said seeing it made them react differently — thus the Ravens’ release of Rice and Goodell’s adjustment of Rice’s suspension to indefinite. (Not relevant here is the part where the media and others don’t believe Goodell had not seen the tape and are calling for his head on a platter.)
The Ravens and Goodell weren’t alone in their shock over the brutal images. Carroll said the video made him rethink his approach to the problem as well.
Since 2000, around 80 NFL players reportedly have been arrested for domestic assault. That number includes a handful of Seahawks.
The NFL has taken its punishment cues from the justice system, which typically sends first-time offenders to pre-trial diversion programs, which generally include counseling, probation and perhaps some community service. The old NFL standard in those cases was a one-game suspension because no jail time was involved.
Seattle players Wayne Hunter, Sean Locklear, Rocky Bernard and Leroy Hill all were banned for one game by the NFL after being placed in diversion programs.
You can argue that the league has coddled its athletes and been a horrible role model for men with anger-management issues, that it should have been punishing them more harshly for these kinds of violent outbursts and helping them more fervently.
But the league was just following society’s mandates, acting in the same manner as the legal system. Goodell suspended Rice for two games in the wake of the initial video and the legal result: a diversion program.
Some who had seen that first video thought Goodell was being too lenient, and he actually later lamented the light sentence he had imposed, creating a tougher standard for domestic abusers (six-game suspension for first offenders, lifetime ban for second offenses).
But then the second video came out, and for some reason domestic abuse suddenly became a huge problem — as if it hadn’t been previously.
Why? Because good people just can’t imagine someone doing something like that, so when they see it, it creates a visceral reaction that their imaginations could not conjure based solely on reports and circumstantial video.
“Unfortunately, after such a serious incident,” Carroll said, “generally our awareness will grow and we’ll be better off because of it and we’ll all think differently.”
Carroll said he talked to his players Wednesday “about the serious nature of it. We made it aware to them that we will help them in any way we can if they’re aware of situations or they feel uncomfortable or they have concerns. We’ll try to elevate their awareness as we go.”
Carroll also said he will look at prospective players in a different light now, perhaps meaning the Hawks might not be so eager to have players such as Hill, who was suspended in 2010 for his domestic-violence case but played for Carroll in 2011 and 2012, or A.J. Jefferson, the cornerback the Hawks signed this year (and later released due to injury) even though he had been arrested for domestic assault in November 2013.
“I have to admit, my awareness is different than it was,” Carroll said. “I don’t think it will ever be the same that it was. I’m glad that I can say that now, because hopefully we can prevent any issue that may come up in the future.”