Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Money, Power and Celebrity Rule

It is impossible to turn on the news, surf the internet or pick up a newspaper without being overwhelmed by the saga of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
In the event you have been living in a cave, here is the Cliff’s Notes version.

Security video surfaces showing Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice hauling the lifeless body of his then fiancé out of a public elevator and dropping her to the floor like a sack of flour. Rice admits to striking his fiancé. Rice and his fiancé are charged with assault. Rice pleads out. The New Jersey state prosecutor gives Rice a slap on the wrist with no jail time. His fiancé apologizes for her part in the incident. The NFL suspends Rice for two games and fines him. Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh addresses the media and says in part: “It’s no big deal. We are moving on.”

Yesterday the rest of the security video is made public. This portion of the video is from inside the elevator. It shows Rice knocking his fiancé to the ground with a vicious punch. The NFL, claiming to have never before seen the portion of the video showing the actual punch; suspends Rice indefinitely. The Ravens immediately cut Rice from the team. Ravens’ coach Harbaugh says that seeing the rest of the video: “…changes things a little bit.”

The outrage against the NFL is palpable. How could the NFL suspend Rice for only two games for assaulting his fiancé when they routinely suspend its players for four games for smoking pot? How does a powerful organization like the NFL, that has eyes everywhere and contacts deep within law enforcement, claim to have not seen this video? And having seen the entire video, how does the NFL in good conscience issue their original ruling of a two game suspension? Critics call for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to resign or be fired.

The outrage is justified…yet at the same time misplaced. The NFL and its misogynistic attitudes toward women is not the issue. The problem goes much deeper than that. This is not just about violence against women. It is about a culture of violence that is rampant in our country. And it is about a societal tumor that values money, power and celebrity above all else…even to the extent of dismissing a violent act against a defenseless person.

This isn’t just a case of a powerful organization turning a blind eye toward violence against women. It is a case of rich and powerful people protecting at all costs their multi-billion dollar institution…their national brand. It is a case of the justice system letting the perpetrator of a violent crime off with a slap on the wrist because of his celebrity status in the local community. It is a sad case of the importance that money, power and celerity play in our society.

I have written many times before that we are a violent society. The US of A is the murder capital of the world. Mass shootings occur with such frequency that we are numb to them. Assault, rape, sexual abuse, child molestation and domestic violence are commonplace. Faceless victims fall prey to the violence every day; their stories not even a blip on the national conscience. But let the crime involve those with money, celebrity and power and our moral outrage knows no bounds.

Lost in the frenzy over the NFL’s insensitive handling Ray Rice’s deplorable actions is a story being quietly played out in State College, Pa.

While everyone was screaming at the NFL the NCAA announced that it was reducing previous sanctions against Penn State for the university’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky incident.

Sandusky, a long time assistant football coach, was found guilty on 52 counts of child molestation involving at least eight underage boys. Sandusky used his celebrity status to attract impressionable young men into his lair. The grand jury found that a number of high ranking school officials including the university president, athletic director and head football coach knew about the abuse and were guilty of covering up the incidents and failing to inform the authorities. PSU officials turned a blind eye in order to protect the institution, the legacy, the cash cow; even at the expense of ruining the lives of eight young men. Local authorities, even after hearing complaints on the abuse from multiple sources, failed to act; showing deference to the celebrity status of the football program, its iconic head coach and the unwitting popularity of the perpetrator. Two years later all is forgiven...sanctions lifted. "It's not theat big of a deal."

I am not condoning the actions of Ray Rice or the NFL. Ray Rice should be sitting in a jail cell like any other violent perpetrator. Roger Goodell should step down or be fired. His response to the initial video exemplifies the lack of understanding and sensitivity that permeates the league. Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh should be suspended for the same reason. But these corrective measures will do little to cure the illness that resides at the very core of who we are as a country.

Ray Rice’s actions and the NFL’s response offend our sensibilities. Like Jerry Sandusky and Penn State before them they will be a part of our national conversation for the days and weeks to come.

And then… what?

What will we do when the latest flames of fury grow cold? Will we strive to curb the violence that is so much a part of our culture? Will we strive to lessen the importance of money, power and celebrity when it comes to things that really matter?

I think you know the answer.

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