Column: Why does the Ray Rice video change anything?

Editors’ Note: If you are a victim of domestic violence, or know someone who is, there are a number of places that offer assistance. Click here for resources.

WASHINGTON — Ray Rice’s domestic violence needed to be seen to be believed.

That’s the sentiment the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL have made loud and clear that they feel this week.

“It changed things,” said Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh of seeing the video, in his Monday press conference. “Of course.”

Of course? Why “of course?”

Goodell “broke his silence” on Tuesday night, telling CBS News that the NFL had asked for video, but had never seen it. But he also said that they already knew that video was out there. The thought that anybody needed to see the actual punch to understand the damage that had been done is ludicrous. We already had seen Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of the casino elevator. How many more dots needed to be connected?

The only thing that really changed was our understanding of what Roger Goodell and the NFL really meant when they paraded out their new domestic abuse policies two weeks ago. And the fact that they believe we need visual evidence to enact an appropriate penalty underscores the toothless nature of their new, harsher policy, which is already failing to do its job.

While Harbaugh stood in bewilderment at his press conference on Monday, it was clear he wasn’t the only member of the family who still doesn’t get it. Across the country, Harbaugh’s brother Jim, head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, continued to fight on the wrong side of the same losing battle.

49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested less than 72 hours after Goodell’s new rules went into place, and jailed on felony domestic violence charges after police noticed marks on his pregnant fiancée’s arms and neck. McDonald started Sunday, recording three tackles in the 49ers’ 28-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Much like those who cry foul about the First Amendment anytime an employee is disciplined by their employer for speaking their mind, Harbaugh came to the defense of his player, saying that McDonald “has the liberty to play in the game.”

While that’s absolutely true in a court of law, it has nothing to do with the NFL’s new policies.

The NFL sat on its high horse and proclaimed the league had taken a strong stance against domestic abuse, and that it always had. We knew the second part of the statement was a lie, as Rob Woodfork expounded upon in painstaking detail yesterday, but we let it slide and waited to see about the first part. Then the league flunked its first test, despite being handed the answer key.

49ers owner Jed York appeared on KNBR in San Francisco Tuesday afternoon, saying he needs “evidence that something’s been done” before holding McDonald out of action. With presumably no video cameras in the McDonald residence, it’s unclear exactly what such evidence would be. York also said the “entire legal process” needed to play out, and tried to separate his own player from the larger scandal, declaring that “Ray McDonald is not Ray Rice.”

Of course York, just like Harbaugh, is wrong. And you didn’t have to look far outside the 49ers organization to find someone with the guts to say it.

Former 49ers quarterback, Hall of Famer, and law school graduate Steve Young went on Monday Night Countdown to criticize the way the team has handled the situation.

“Ray McDonald gets arrested, and has visible bruising on his wife, felony domestic abuse, violence,” Young said. “Any company in this country, any big company, if that happens, they send you home. They might pay you, but you don’t play. You don’t come to work until we figure this out … But we have got to have a policy that, if you get arrested for this, until we figure it out, we’ll call you when we figure it out. We’re going to call you from home. It just has to be that way or you’re not serious about it.”

The NFL is far more interested in protecting its brand than the wives and girlfriends of its players, or even the long-term safety of the players themselves. That much seems obvious. Understanding how we got to this point — where teams and media outlets mount massive PR campaigns in blind support of players — requires a bit more introspection.

For instance, what was Ravens PR man Kevin Byrne thinking when he penned his piece “I Like Ray Rice” — which, unlike the team’s horrific tweets, has not yet been deleted — posted to on July 25? The only man who comes across more tone deaf than Byrne is Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, whom Byrne quotes in his piece.

Biscotti speaks about Rice, lamenting “how sad we all are that he tarnished his image,” then goes on to compare fan backlash to Rice to that of kicker Billy Cundiff for missing a field goal. No wonder he, too, threw his coach out to face the media on Monday while remaining conspicuously absent.

But the Ravens and the league aren’t the only ones at fault here.

The Washington Post recently carried an excellent, in depth profile of NFL reporter Adam Schefter, which showed just how much information he is privy to both from individual teams and the league itself. What such a feature also showed, indirectly, is why those like Schefter, with the most access,
would never break such a story or step up to call out teams or the league for their failures: they are far too invested.

So, too, is ESPN, which recently signed a $15.2 billion deal to televise Monday Night Football through 2021. The last hot ticket off-the-field NFL topic that ESPN was broaching was the concussion investigation being produced in conjunction Frontline last August. The network ended up pulling out of the story and leaving it to PBS, ignoring it entirely once it actually aired. While Goodell continues to levy higher and higher fines and suspensions for helmet-to-helmet hits, neither he, nor ESPN, seem to care much about getting to the bottom of the actual causes of long-term damage to the league’s employees.

Finally, there’s the NFL Network, owned by the league itself, whose old slogan was, “When you want the NFL, go to the NFL.”

It’s why, when Rice was originally suspended a measly two games, obvious to all to be an inexcusably light slap on the wrist, the network came out said, unironically, that Rice would be “dealing with the iron fist of the NFL.”

It’s why it took until Tuesday for columnists at ESPN, The Washington Post, and a host of others to come out and call, rightly, for Goodell to step down.

It took a video of a player coldcocking his wife to bring this issue the attention and gravity it has long deserved. Let’s not let that be the standard of evidence required to take such matters seriously moving forward.

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