By Jason Keidel
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Even by the pro athlete’s subterranean standards, the Ray Rice video was shocking.
While getting my civil libertarian on, burping bromides about the presumption of innocence, my wonderful woman pointed out the frigid disregard with which Rice handled his fiancee’s limp body in that Atlantic City casino a few days ago.
Rice dragged – not carried – her from that elevator, then lifted, yanked, and plopped her limbs on the floor, just barely into the hallway. Then, realizing her feet were still in the doorway, he hoisted her lifeless legs, twisted them just enough to let the door close, then dropped them back onto the carpet.
He made no effort to heal or cradle or care for his unconscious fiancee. He regarded her with the chilling apathy of a stranger, as though her sprawling frame were a hurdle between himself and a vital date with the blackjack table.
Of all the places in America to (allegedly) abuse a woman, a casino is the absolutely worst place to keep it clandestine. Casinos have more cameras than a bank vault. Now we hear reports that police have even more damning video, perhaps of Rice actually striking his fiancee.
But the Rice incident is just the latest in a line of disturbing reports, from Atlantic City to Miami to Los Angeles, where the NFL doesn’t even have a franchise. And at some point the league must meditate on the problem to see if they somehow either enable or encourage this conduct.
The NFL is always stretching the human dichotomy, asking them to be beasts during the day, then ambassadors of the shield at night, beer in hand, at the strip club or street corner, where the demons dance.
So it’s no surprise the NFL has a violence problem. Maybe it was always so. Perhaps the players of our youth were similarly predisposed to vulgar, violent behavior. Maybe the only difference is the proliferation of social media, a 24-hour endeavor that keeps the curtain lifted on the lives of all our celebrities.
Mix the perilous behavior with prehistoric impulses and you have the Miami Dolphins, who have been under America’s microscope ever since Jonathan Martin said Enough. Enough to Richie Incognito, the rest of his line, his team, his coaches, and the entire apparatus that allows for bigotry and bullying.
Somehow the scorched earth policy across Miami vaporized everyone but the man in charge, head coach Joe Philbin. NFL coaches are so quick to assert their authority, until it’s inconvenient to do so. The buck stopped with Philbin, but the reckless bucks on his offensive line crossed the line with alarming indifference to decency.
So the offensive line coach and head trainer, casualties in the Martin/Incognito saga, are culpable, but not the boss. If you watched “Hard Knocks” you saw that Philbin always had a Mr. Magoo quality to him, aloof to the core and the chore of leading the Dolphins, who are just a hot mess right now.
So if you’re wondering why Philbin was at the combine yesterday, you’re not the only one. You can’t lead with your mouth, which is what Philbin did at the dais, spewing his scripted platitudes about responsibility and a new world order in Miami. That was his task when he arrived a few years ago, to remold a moribund franchise that has floundered ever since Dan Marino and Don Shula ended their bejeweled careers.
You can’t be a part-time leader. Not in the NFL. No sport takes on the head coach’s hard-hat ethos more than football. No sport lives or dies on the decisions of its coach like football does. Teams can pivot on one personnel move, one whistle blown, on one player cut, on a coach fired. And it’s time Philbin joins his fallen colleagues.
The Miami makeover isn’t complete without coach Philbin paying his share of the tax. Particularly after listening to his presser yesterday, during which he laid out the conflicting assertions that he was entirely responsible for the work environment yet had no idea that said climes were so tattered last year.
And the NFL is paying a surging surcharge on the duality it demands from its players, and its impact spans the social and racial landscape. Ray Rice. Richie Incognito. Rae Carruth. Jovan Belcher. Aaron Hernandez. Mike Vick.
And if the Rice video weren’t disturbing enough, former NFL star Darren Sharper has been charged with galling crimes this week. Police in Los Angeles arrested Sharper for allegedly drugging and raping several women.
The LAPD claims that Sharper, an analyst for NFL Network (for about ten more minutes) used a cocktail that included morphine to sedate the women before he assaulted them in various hotel rooms. According to the Los Angeles Times, Sharper has been ordered to surrender his passport and stay within city limits, which isn’t something you hear when law enforcement is uncertain about your guilt.
Sharper isn’t the first, any more than Aaron Hernandez was the last. And yet we have no assurances from the league that it’s addressing it’s expanding blotter.
For decades, the NFL has deflected all manner of miscreants, somehow plopping them into a distant pile, from which the splash of sin has yet to reach the logo.
And this makes no mention of the concussion lawsuit – which still isn’t resolved – nor of poor souls like Andre Waters, Dave Duerson, and Junior Seau, who took their own lives, perhaps specifically because of the head trauma they suffered as NFL players.
The NFL shield has remained remarkably clean while many of its marquee names have been historically dirty. Money and power can buy plenty of good publicity, and it’s no coincidence that the NFL was essentially branded and launched by a brilliant ad executive named Pete Rozelle.
But at some point it’s less important to remain clean than it is to come clean. Roger Goodell needs to know that even a league as muscular as the NFL could use a little humility, and realize that admitting an illness is not a weakness.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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