So Ray Rice is free to remain unemployed. That’s quite the victory for a man who didn’t really deserved one.
Then again, it was another demonstrable rebuke for the NFL, which richly deserved the beating it took.
Rice’s appeal of his suspension by the league was overturned by an arbitrator, who found that Rice had actually told the truth when he told the Baltimore Ravens he actually did punch his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator.
The NFL, which was trying to make the elephant in the room disappear by hiding it behind a bigger elephant, failed yet again.
This is not a plaintive cry for Rice to be reinstated immediately, either. One person’s crime should not be mitigated by the willful bunglings and obfuscations of others.
But let’s not forget those bunglings and obfuscations as we move forward, because it is proof yet again that the NFL and its brother and sister leagues really don’t have this player discipline thing down at all.
They want a commissioner to be their mall cops, and Roger Goodell has shown enough times now that he has let modified power corrupt him absolutely. His performance in the Rice matter exposed both himself and his superiors to the kind of richly merited scorn and ridicule, and showed all five major players unions that money isn’t the only issue worth arguing about at collective bargaining time.
No, it is time for the leagues to understand that in a complicated world in which nothing stays fully private for long, transparency is to be eagerly sought rather than avoided. It is time for labor and management to figure out coherent rules under which punishment can and should take place, and who should be charged with making those decisions.
And the answer is obvious.
Make the judges fit the crime. The leagues and their constituent unions should have panels of experts ready for issues like domestic violence, present them with the verifiable facts, pay them from both sides, and let those experts decide a proper punishment, based not only on punitive but redemptive principles.
The Rice case was sordid on its face, but the NFL made it more so by first dismissing it as unimportant, then tailoring the punishment to fit the owner of the team whose player had been responsible, then muddied the investigative waters to the point where they became a mudslide, then changed its stance because of public outcry, and wanted to make up punishments as it went along until it found out something people would buy.
And what they bought in the end was that the NFL always makes it up as it goes along, because as the song goes, “to keep the wheels turnin’, you got to keep the engines churnin’.”
Now it is clear that making it up on the fly won’t work any more, and in something as complicated as domestic violence, neither does ignorance of the issue.
The NFL even admitted as much when it commissioned its panel of experts. Unless those people have been signed on as window dressing as baseball constructed its Baseball-In-San-Jose blue ribbon panel that barely existed and never met, they should actually be paid to bring their expertise to bear so that the leagues cannot wallow in their much-beloved conflicts of interest.
Does this make discipline more complicated? Of course it does. Does it solve all the problems? It isn’t really meant to. But it solves one -– the false assumption that leagues operate for the greater good. Ray Rice was educational for a lot of reasons, and he ought to provide the same for the people who tried to sugarcoat his crime and then turn the screw on him when it served their purposes.
Specifically, the lesson he provides the NFL is that sometimes the job that must be done must be done by someone else.