The Campaign Spot

The Tipping Point for Intolerable Behavior from NFL Players

Janay Rice, who was knocked out by her then-fiancé​, Ray Rice, issues a statement blasting the media for “unwanted options” and for causing her pain; she assures the world that she and Ray “will continue to show the world what real love is.”

Perhaps that helps illuminate why prosecutors did not throw the book at Rice, and why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell initially felt Rice deserved merely a two-game suspension.

As noted in today’s Jolt:

The Video That Might Cost an NFL Commissioner His Job

Behold, Ray Rice, managing to put a sour mood across the NFL’s opening weekend.

Mark Hemingway asks, “Why was the Ray Rice video straw that broke the camel’s back? We knew he knocked his fiancé out . . . how did people think that happened?”

At Red State, Leon Wolf answers that question, with a good point for any of us who communicate for a living:

We humans are weird creatures. It is one thing to know, intellectually, that Ray Rice knocked a woman unconscious in a hotel elevator. It is another thing to actually see it happen. Back when we all knew that Ray Rice had knocked Janay Palmer unconscious, Ray Rice faced a two game suspension from the NFL and still had his job with the Baltimore Ravens. Sure, the NFL and the Ravens both took criticism for that, but both entities felt that they could weather this criticism, with good reason. Now that all of America practically has actually seen the incident in question, the NFL and Ravens both know that standing behind Rice will simply not be tenable any longer, and so he finds himself out of a job and perhaps unemployable. The NFL deserves all the ridicule it is getting today for its laughable claim that it has never seen the video before today, but it is very clear that what forced the NFL’s hand is that we, the public have now all seen it.

Humans place inordinate value at an emotional level upon what they can see, as opposed to what is visible with all their other senses. A good amount of scientific study shows in fact that in many situations we place too much emphasis on visual cues taken from pictures and tend to divorce those pictures from what we know about the rest of the context about a fact, or ignore what information we don’t have about context, which makes our understanding imperfect. As noted in this excellent piece from the New Yorker, divining the truth from a picture can sometimes be a challenge even for people who are highly trained almost exclusively to divine truth from pictures, like radiologists.

None of this changes the fact, however, that as humans we react powerfully to what we can see and usually ignore what we don’t, at least on an emotional level.

If we hear that Ray Rice punched out his fiancée, and only see the aftermath, we’re mad. If we see Ray Rice punching out his fiancée, we’re furious.

It may not be particularly fair to Ray Rice that he gets a third round of punishment from his employers, separate from the legal system, because more video of the incident reaches the public’s eyes. But I’m just not that bothered about unfairness of the circumstances for a guy who knocked out his fiancée and, considering how hard her head hit that metal railing in the elevator, came chillingly close to inflicting traumatic brain injury.

Monday night, word broke that “TMZ says they are dropping big news that the NFL turned a blind eye to the Ray Rice video.” By the time you read this, this story may have taken another awful chapter. We’ll see what they mean by “turned a blind eye.”

One wonders if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might have to fall on his sword as his decision to initially suspend Rice for a mere two games grows ever more inexplicable. Can he reassure the fan bases, the media, and the owners that he’s got the good judgment to handle these sorts of disciplinary issues?

The long-simmering issue of NFL player behavior may be reaching a tipping point. By some measurements, the arrest rate for NFL players is significantly lower than that of the public at large.To paraphrase what I heard on the car radio from ESPN’s Colin Cowherd a few days ago, you’re dealing with a population of young healthy men with extraordinary amounts of money and fame, residing in the nation’s biggest and most glamorous cities and with very little to do for half the year besides stay in shape. Some of these guys come from rough neighborhoods and have no-good friends, and that doesn’t count all of the opportunists who pop up once a young man, quite often with limited college education, suddenly has money to burn. He says he’s surprised the arrest rate is as low as it is. A large portion of NFL player arrests are DUIs, reckless driving, drunk and disorderly, drug possession — not harmless, but not exactly surprising considering the circumstances.

But we, the public, paying for those monster salaries and buying the jerseys and doing all the things we do to financially support the players, have a right to expect better behavior. Or perhaps we have a right to expect our legal system to stop letting professional athletes out with a comparable slap on the wrist. Aaron Hernandez is on trial for murder; the Cowboys’ Josh Brent got 180 days in jail for a DUI car crash that killed his teammate, and Donté Stallworth served 30 days in jail for a DUI manslaughter charge after killing a pedestrian. (He’s now signed with the Huffington Post Huffies as a national-security correspondent.)

We’ve never seen anything like this befo–

Okay, we’ve rarely seen anything like this before now.

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