The NFL, the Ravens, and Ray Rice: Does it Really All Come Down to a Video?

nfl_a_rice_d1_600x400Today, the Baltimore Ravens cut Ray Rice, the running back who was involved in an ugly altercation in February with his then fiancé, and now wife, Janay Palmer.

The NFL followed the Ravens’ action by suspending Rice indefinitely.

What a difference a video makes. The contract cancellation and the suspension come just a month and a half after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed a two-game suspension on Rice to start the season—a move that was widely criticized as a meaningless slap on the wrist.

Just over a week ago, Goodell got a do-over, and announced a much tougher domestic abuse policy for the league.

And that August 28 policy came down just three days before the San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested on felony charges in connection with a domestic violence incident involving him and his fiancée.

But all this was before the video came out on showing Rice in an Atlantic City elevator knocking out his fiancé with a withering punch to the face.

Have you ever looked at Rice’s arms? It had to have been a horribly powerful punch.

With the NFL, it’s only a matter of time before the next act of criminal behavior. But the league is hyper-popular, and fans just want to see great athletes play—they care less, seemingly, about what kind of people those players are.

This creates a major communications dilemma for the league. With so many players in so much trouble, what’s the league to do? And many of these players are not just not nice guys, but some are really bad. Two words: Aaron Hernandez.

So far, the NFL’s handling of its terrible publicity has been terribly poor.

Consider what Christine Brennan said today in USA Today:

“Ray Rice is gone from the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. That’s a very good ending to an absolutely horrible situation.”

(One thing sort of bothers me reading Brennan’s item and others today: The media tends to pile on: Rice was considered a decent guy for a long time. He was personable, accessible, a humble guy from New Rochelle feted on the local sports radio station, WFAN. Now he’s a monster.)

Anyway, Brennan’s point is that now that Ray Rice is gone, what about Ray McDonald? Or Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers, who was found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend and is still playing? Or Ravens teammate Terrell Suggs, whose longtime girlfriend described repeated assaults on her by Suggs.

Why are these people and others still playing? Does it really all come down to a video? Why has the Ravens management—until today—been absolutely supportive of Rice? Well, we all know the answer—yes, it all really does come down to shocking video evidence. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good communications strategy, or the right thing.

—Tony Silber