Ray Rice

It’s a real shame that today, on the first day of the Miss America Pageant, which in my opinion is the ultimate celebration of women and values in America, that we are distracted by the story of a man who devalued the most important woman in his life in the most inexcusable way. Coincidentally, the site of both events is / was Atlantic City. I should be writing about the Pageant and all the excitement and surprises that will unfold over the next couple of days. But you read the title so you know I’m not.

Perhaps it is ingrained in my nature as a lawyer to defend due process and demand fairness even for those who are reviled by society. The judicial system is the last place of refuge for those who have already been convicted in the court of public opinion. Those in my profession are duty-bound to uphold the rule of law for the innocent as well as the guilty, and for those who are right and those who are wrong.

Obviously, no one can defend what Ray Rice did to his then-fiance, and now wife, on that summer night in Atlantic City. The evidence is indisputable. They argued in an elevator and he hit her. He did it. Alcohol, anger, don’t even mention it. There are no excuses worth talking about. It was an assault. What happened was awful and it deserved to be punished.

I am equally incensed, however, by the mob “justice” that was doled out today. As far as I know, the NFL knew the facts, and came to the decision that Rice should be suspended two games, on top of the embarrassment and loss of endorsements and whatever criminal consequences he might face. Meanwhile, Rice and his fiancé got married (which certainly doesn’t absolve him because women marry abusive men every day).

Say what you want about the suspension, but it was made with due consideration. On August 1st, just over a month ago, the NFL commissioner defended his decision. http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Roger-Goodell-defends-decision-on-Ray-Rice.html . The commish explained his decision: “A lot of people are voicing their opinion but it’s important to understand that this is a young man that made a terrible mistake that is inconsistent with what we’re all about. We dealt with it in a serious manner and we’re very confident that this young man understands where he is and what he needs to do going forward.”

A few weeks later, after being essentially blackmailed over how bad it will look if one player is suspended for a season for smoking weed while another gets two games for beating his wife, the Commissioner admits he made a “mistake.”

Then today, a video is released. Rice goes from being suspended for 1/8th of the season to losing his job because people actually see what he did that night. As if the act is somehow made a hundred times worse because we can now see it with our own eyes.

How much sense does that make?

I know sports is a business and I can stand for harsh punishment based solely on public opinion even when I don’t agree it is deserved. Donald Sterling, for example, was punished harshly. The whole charade was ridiculous, but it was done in a consistent manner.

The first injustice here is the arbitrariness. Without a video, he gets two games. With a video, he gets kicked out of football for life. Simply because it makes us angrier to see it happen than to know about it in the abstract.  That type of passion-driven decision making is the antithesis of law and order and has no place in this country.

And let’s not pretend that we didn’t really know what happened before we saw today’s video. We already saw the video of him dragging her unconscious from the elevator.

The second injustice is the harm done to the victim. Can someone please explain how it helps his wife for her husband to lose his multi-million dollar job? Is anyone naive enough to believe that is what she wanted (or anyone in her position would want?) To be victimized by this incident for a second time?

Rice’s wife is out $9.5 million now, though to be fair, she is not hurting for money.

No, mobs don’t think about those sorts of things. They don’t think about the consequences of their actions. Only blood will satisfy them.

Meanwhile, we assure ourselves that we are nothing like those brutes in the Middle East …

Perhaps, I shouldn’t say “we” because I am sure there are many who disagree with how the NFL handled things today. Most will remain silent, because no one wants to be seen as taking the side of a domestic abuser. It’s never a popular stance to take. Everyone wants to feel morally superior and climb on top of the pile. No one wants to be ostracized.  But deep down, a lot of people realize this isn’t right.  Like this writer: http://m.thenation.com/blog/181523-revictimizing-janay-rice .

Maybe you think he should have been ejected from the league immediately, and I respect that opinion. I agree there is deterrence value in harsh punishment. But I hope we can all agree that a video should not be the difference between “this young man understands where he is and what he needs to do going forward” and the end of a promising career. Between receiving a standing ovation in the preseason and a pink slip. That’s not fair, and that’s not justice.

For those of us who are Christian, remember what Jesus had to say about the tyranny of the mob.  May he who has not sinned cast the first stone.

It’s a shame about what happened and it’s a shame how it was handled. It’s also a shame that I had to spend tonight writing about it rather than cherishing the women our country strives to protect.

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