Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Long, Hard Path to Forgiveness

I've stayed very, very silent about the Ray Rice story that started in February, both on this blog and in life.  I know him based largely on his public persona he's had during his career to date, which is roughly the same as any other Ravens fan.  I've followed him on Facebook as well, and I always admired him for taking such a hard stand against bullying among children.  He's always been a likable guy, and he's also been one of the better players on the team for his career prior to last season.

I can't possibly sit here and claim I know him better than most other non-Ravens fans.  The stuff I do know about him is essentially public record, the kinds of facts that most anyone can Google on their own time.  Because of that, I'd never claim to have any special insight into him or his character beyond what most anyone else could find out on their own.

Last week, the NFL handed out its suspension of Ray Rice for the first two games of the 2014 season after his legal punishment had been completed in New Jersey courts.  The league office took what had felt like an exorbitant amount of time in deciding what kind of punishment should be levied on Rice; when the news finally did break, I have to admit I was a little surprised that Rice was served a two-game suspension and a fine.  Columnists both in the sports world and in the general news have had plenty to say over the last several days offering their opinions on the subject, most of whom felt the NFL was exceedingly soft on Rice.

I'm really torn on this whole situation.  Part of me feels it's the right level of suspension for reasons which I will get into.  Another side of me sees things from a different perspective.

The popular notion that Rice got off lightly is in large part to comparing his suspension to other players in the league who have tested positive for banned substances such as marijuana.  I've read plenty of articles and comments from fans who all see a major issue with the league's priorities if they give the impression that they care more about a player who does something as arguably benign as smoking weed over a man who punched his then-fiance, now-wife.

Here's my problem with that argument: there is a huge difference between the substance abuse policy and the personal conduct policy.  The league's stance on substance abuse is very detailed in the collective bargaining agreement with the players' union.  Players know exactly which substances are considered illegal, and the consequences should they ever test positive for a banned substance.  Marijuana may be something very weak in the eyes of the general public, but the league still considers it a banned substance.  Players like Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon have already been handed suspensions after testing positive for marijuana use (multiple times, in fact), so I have no sympathy for a player who repeatedly and knowingly breaks the rules.

The personal conduct policy is much more of a gray area.  Commissioner Roger Goodell evaluates every case on his own, and issues the punishment himself.  Should a player appeal his decision, he re-evaluates the case and may reduce the punishment.  It's extremely arbitrary, and many times the punishments that have been handed out since Goodell became league commissioner have at least appeared to be inconsistent with each other.

The closest example I can think of to Ray Rice's situation is Ben Roethlisberger, which in fairness isn't really an apples to apples comparison.  Ben had three well-documented cases against him: his motorcycle accident and two women accusing him of sexual assault.  Formal charges in the sexual assault cases were never filed, but the sheer accusations were enough to paint him in a very bad light.

Ben's reputation for being a party boy got so bad that Steelers fans wanted him run out of Pittsburgh (and this was after he had won two Super Bowls with the team).  He eventually had to face the music by meeting both Steelers president Art Rooney and Roger Goodell.  He was ultimately served a six-game suspension, which was appealed and reduced to four games.

The big difference between Ben and Rice is that Ben had a much longer list of poor judgment, misconduct, and alleged criminal actions.  None of that reduces the severity of Rice's one run in with the law to date, but it does somewhat explain why Ben was served a longer suspension than Rice.  To his credit, Ben has straightened out his behavior since then, and has largely been a model citizen in the Pittsburgh community.

If Rice had any previous history of domestic violence with his now-wife (or any previous relationship, for that matter), I would think the police and/or prosecutor in his case would have found evidence via medical records of injuries.  Had any such evidence been found, that information would almost certainly have been leaked to the media (and the public) somehow.  The prosecution would have thrown the book at Rice and pressed for the case to go to trial so he could be put behind bars, which would have been completely deserved in that instance.  Once the prosecution had offered Rice a plea bargain deal that would expunge the entire incident from his record, that pretty much said there was no previous history of domestic violence.

Make no mistake though; none of that minimizes the severity of Rice's alleged crime.  He definitely got off lightly, both in the eyes of the law and in the NFL.  He still faces judgment in the court of public opinion, one that will likely hang over him far longer than his legal proceedings.  However, given this was his first ever crime committed and the precedents set before him, the suspension seems appropriate to me.

Right now I probably sound like a Ravens homer, blindly defending one of my team's key players.  However, there's another important perspective on this story that has given me pause when thinking about Ray Rice.

You may recall the story of my acquaintance who was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend two years ago.  The small comfort in that case is that the ex-boyfriend was found guilty and sentenced to prison for Amber's murder, so she can finally rest in peace.  My dear friend who was very close to Amber for years had since taken it upon herself to work tirelessly to campaign for GPS tracking devices for men charged with domestic violence so their victims will know if/when they are nearby.

Just yesterday, my friend posted on Facebook that a writer for ESPN had been researching domestic violence cases and found Amber's story.  His research led him to contacting my friend about her work on GPS units, and he wanted to talk to her about her efforts in light of the Ray Rice case, as well as her thoughts on the case itself.  I'm incredibly proud of her work and how it's reached such a huge emotional impact on people across the country.

I can't just summarily dismiss Ray Rice's case, given Amber's story.  I want to believe that Rice had never struck a woman prior to February's incident.  His own father-in-law even forgave him for his action, which also seems to indicate he had never done anything like that before.  The warning signs that were clearly there with Amber and her ex aren't there with Rice and his wife Janay.

Yet, I'm sitting here thinking about my 3-year-old niece.  What would I - or my brother-in-law, for that matter - do if she eventually dated a guy and came home one day with a black eye?  I've joked many times that if such a thing ever happened, nobody would ever find the body of the kid responsible for hitting her.  I don't think I'd be so quick to forgive and forget a boy who would have given my niece a black eye (or worse). It's incredibly easy to forgive someone else who you want to trust and believe, but it's an entirely different situation when your own family member is involved.

The media has been accusing the NFL over the last week of not truly caring about its women fans, given the outcome of Ray Rice's case.  The NFL has campaigned hard over the last decade or so to market itself to women, largely by dedicating the month of October to breast cancer support.  I'm sure that when the Ravens play their road games in October, and Ray Rice takes the field wearing pink arm bands to show his support, fans of other teams will boo him loudly and fiercely for his apparent two-faced attitude.  I still don't know if I'll wear my Rice jersey any time soon, but his press conference today finally showed the kind of remorse and contrition that he needed to show all along.  The first step is always the hardest in a situation like this, and maybe we all can forgive and forget.

UPDATE: The ESPN article has gone online, and here it is.  It's an exceptionally well-written piece, and the author seems to share many of my feelings about Ray Rice and the entire case.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ix-nay Egas-vay

My neurotic side really came out in my last post.  Like, way more than even I was aware of until I recently went back and re-read it.  A lot has changed since then, which is the point of this post.

Over the last couple months, my therapist and I had agreed that I had accomplished many of the goals I had set for myself when we first started meeting nearly a year ago.  We had been meeting twice a month for a while, and then scaled back to only once a month.  During our most recent session, we had concluded that it was time for me to "graduate," since things were largely going in a good direction for me.  She's still only a phone call away though, so she's available if/when I need her.

One of the big things that we had discussed during our last session was my upcoming trip to Vegas.  I've calmed down a lot since May, and I was back to the point of being really excited about going.  One of my best friends had moved out to San Diego back in April, so my buddy who was also part of the bachelor party and I had made plans for our friend to stay with us in Vegas since we'd be relatively close by.

That was, until the bachelor found out about our plans.

The bachelor contacted my buddy and me separately to ask what was going on when he found out about our friend meeting us in Vegas (the bachelor and our friend don't know each other at all).  I asked if having our friend staying with us would be an issue, and the bachelor thought it was a little weird.  He said he had invited the two of us to party with him all weekend long, but he didn't want some random extra guy tagging along.  I said we were going to see our buddy during down time, but we were both going to do some of the group events that had been discussed over email.  I didn't think there was much of a problem here.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

The bachelor de-vited us both from the weekend getaway and refunded our money for the hotel.  At first, I got his point: he had a specific group of guys he wanted to be with for that weekend, and he didn't want some other random people just joining in who he didn't know.  My buddy saw things differently; he thought the bachelor was being selfish and unreasonable.  My buddy didn't see any real problem with having one extra guy stay in our hotel room for the weekend so that we could hang out with him for part of the time we'd be in Vegas.  The way I saw things, it was the bachelor's weekend, so he could call the shots on who was part of the group and who wouldn't be.

I stirred over this for a day or so.  My buddy has never had an issue with discussing how angry he can get over an argument, and this incident was no exception.  He couldn't wrap his head over why I disagreed with him, especially after he had talked it over with some other friends of ours, all of whom thought the bachelor was being unreasonable.

Eventually I talked it over with my awesome roommate to get her insight into it.  It was at this point that I started coming around to my buddy's side of the table.  My roommate had one simple thought on the subject, and it was this: IT'S VEGAS.  These guys were bound to party up the weekend with all kinds of random people while they're out there.  They're more than likely to run into other bachelor parties as well, and probably other random people while they're out and about.  It's a complete contradiction in terms to suggest the bachelor doesn't want random people joining their group when they're going to a place like Vegas.

Once I had put some thought into it, I realized my buddy was right all along.  The bachelor was being unreasonable, and he may not even realize how stupid his thinking was until well after he returns from Vegas.  Still, I can't get too upset over it for some other reasons which I won't get into here.

Fortunately, I didn't lose out on my airfare for travel.  I cancelled the flight reservation with Southwest, but the good news is that the money I had already spent on the flight can be used for another trip between now and May next year.  I'm thinking now it may be worth it to travel out to San Diego directly since I've never been there before, which would probably be more fun than a weekend in Vegas anyway.