Last week two NFL running backs were in the headlines not for their play on the field, but rather misconduct off of it. The violence exhibited by both Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice against members of their families has spawned countless jeremiads on the violent culture of football.
The propensity for some millionaire athletes to rage against those they love no doubt deserves further examination. However perhaps a more important question is why it takes video or photographic evidence to elicit opprobrium from NFL bigwigs, the sports punditry, corporate sponsors and the viewing public.
The Rice situation serves as a better example for this phenomenon, as there was a considerable amount of lag from when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell first levied his laughable two-game suspension on the former Raven to when the brutality of Rice’s actions that night in Atlantic City were foisted upon the public consciousness by TMZ. In Peterson’s case, punitive action for the flagellation of his 4-year-old son happened almost concurrently with the release of visual evidence by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department.
It took only four days from when Rice was first charged with simple assault for the first video of the incident to enter the public domain. That initial video shows only the aftermath of Rice’s assault as he is seen dragging his unconscious then-fiancée Janay Palmer from a hotel elevator.
Coupled with his application to a pretrial diversion program ten weeks later, evidence of Rice’s culpability in the incident was quite apparent. Furthermore, Atlantic County prosecutors indicated at the time that they had further video evidence of the attack which would all but assure Rice’s guilt in a trial by jury.
These early May revelations should have transformed what was a low murmur of public tsk-tsking into the palpable indignation on display the past week, yet they didn’t. Only when actual video of Rice’s jarring left hook was released Sept. 8 did the NFL and society at large deem Rice’s offense beyond reproach.
It shouldn’t be like this.
Then we get to Peterson. Pictures of the lacerations the Vikings star meted out upon his son’s legs were released in conjunction with the criminal charges. Would there be significant outrage were there no images of the child’s injuries?
Looking at the relative silence in response to two other incidents of domestic violence from NFL players Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald and the answer is clearly “no.”
I wish I could chalk up the societal shrug to some form of reverence for the innocent until proven guilty principle of criminal law, but that isn’t the case. Running the risk of fully embracing an “old man yells at cloud” tone, the shameful reason for our requirement of visual documentation prior to collective condemnation is our incredibly short attention spans working in tandem with a voyeuristic obsession.
Hardy and McDonald and their baleful attitudes towards women live on in relative obscurity precisely because there’s no video or pictures at which to gawk and point and shake our heads in moral superiority.
This tendency even bleeds into international affairs. ISIS is the existential threat du jour due in large part to their embrace of cinema decapitique. A continent away, Boko Haram still terrorizes Nigeria, yet #bringbackourgirls is more a punchline for an effete administration than a call to arms to halt a sadistic band of rapists and marauders. No video, no cry.
The lesson for any aspiring degenerate, whether foreign or domestic is simple: be as much of a menace as you want, but if you expect to get away with it in the court of public opinion, make sure the cameras aren’t rolling.