In the past few weeks, it has become extremely easy to look down on the NFL with an air of superiority. With prominent cases of domestic abuse springing up in the aftermath of the Ray Rice controversy, the media and the public is certainly justified in wondering if the NFL has a growing problem with keeping its violence and aggression on the field. Many media outlets are now taking a stance against domestic violence in other sports, noting that if football players should be punished for the crime, then so should U.S. women’s soccer star Hope Solo, who allegedly attacked her sister and nephew earlier this year.
Prominent reporters and columnists across the nation are highlighting the mistakes and oversights of everyone involved in these cases and their handling: the assailants, the organizations that employ them and especially the commissioners who hand out lax punishments, like NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. While the media has certainly been adept at pointing fingers in the Rice case, it should perhaps examine its own previous lack of coverage on domestic violence.
There was a certain hypocrisy in the way the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens handled the punishment of Ray Rice. The latest footage of the brutal attack hardly represented events in a new light, but simply in more graphic detail; Ray Rice himself was very candid in describing what happened during the initial investigation. What exactly changed to mark up the punishment from a two-game suspension to being banned indefinitely? Quite simply, it was the media coverage.
With the full version of the brutal footage at its disposal, the media made this issue into the firestorm that it should have been all those months ago when the incident occurred. The public knew from the outset essentially everything that we know now, and yet it took a more damning video — wasn’t the video of Rice violently dragging his unconscious fiance out of the elevator damning enough? — to get the media’s and thus the public’s full attention. Now that the issue is out in the open, accusations of domestic abuse are reported en masse as they occur, as seen with Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer just this week. But when Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was found guilty on two counts of domestic violence in July (and reportedly threatened to kill the victim), it barely registered in national sporting news. It was only this past week, after the Ravens dropped Ray Rice, that the Panthers removed Hardy from the active roster, after the public picked up on the emerging double standard.
The same media outrage is on display again with the latest outcry over Solo’s continued presence on the U.S. women’s soccer team. Let me first say that it is right to point out Solo’s situation given the attention on Rice and Hardy — to do otherwise would set a gender double standard. But where was the outrage over Solo’s actions back in June when they occurred? Any moral outrage from the media rings hollow when they’ve sat on the facts for several months.
When we look back even further into the history of domestic abuse by major athletes, the media’s efforts to pursue the story have been consistently lacking. Former NBA All-Star and current Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd plead guilty to assaulting his wife back in 2001, and was accused later of smashing her head and breaking her ribs, and yet his crimes never incited the media outcry that Ray Rice did. Champion boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. has assaulted a litany of women, even serving jail time in 2012, and yet domestic abuse isn’t the first thing that comes to mind with him the way it does with Rice. It seems that knowing about the incident isn’t enough; we only really seem to care about domestic violence when the brutal incident is placed in front of our eyes and we are forced to watch.
None of this article is designed to cut Ray Rice any slack – his actions were vicious, dangerous and ultimately cowardly, and he deserves to face the consequences for his unacceptable outburst. But he should not have the market monopoly when it comes to domestic violence awareness simply because his attack was caught on video. The issue is far from new — in the NFL and beyond. The media and the public is right to not let the issue fade into the background, but there’s just something insincere about networks attacking the cover-up and lack of accountability in the NFL when they won’t acknowledge their own repeated failure to use the power of the media to give domestic violence the coverage it deserves.
Darius Majd is a senior in the College. The Sporting Life appears every Tuesday.