Don’t fire him. Keep him on the team and playing with the starters.
Let me explain.
I have yet to see anyone opine that this imbroglio reflects the ongoing problem of race relations in the U.S. but I am not sure why. When did professional sports’ servant leaders come down as hard on white players or managers who also beat their wives? Or when did the public outrage become as heated over white incidents of domestic violence as in this case of Ray Rice? I’ll leave the African-American pastors to figure this one out, but I could see them making a plausible case — except, a big exception, that it is hard to turn Ray Rice into a victim.
But he is (and so is his wife) in a way. Everyone well knows by now that the NFL reversed its decision on Rice once the video went public. Then and only then did the NFL and the Ravens need to save face (in a way that can’t be good for the Rice marriage). And despite the hypocrisy that all those with logs in their own eyes can see in the NFL’s timely dismissal of Rice, most of those same viewers will be right back in the stadiums and in front of their televisions this Thursday night and Sunday afternoon (unless they are Old School Presbyterians), looking past those logs. We Americans love our moral purity even as much as we adore a sport that is riddled with hypocrisy. And here’s the kicker — the hypocrisy of the NFL depends on the hypocrisy of football fans. I assume most fans will be glad for the harsh penalty against Rice, and now will feel the league has achieved enough moral balance to permit ongoing viewing, betting, and fantasy league managing. They may not know it, but unless they give up the game, the NFL’s fans are as much implicated in this face saving as the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell.
The Old Testament way of handling this would not have been to seek relief by cutting losses or players. It would have been to treat Ray Rice like King David. After David’s affair with Bathsheba and the death of her husband, Uriah, what happened to David? Things went south in the family and he and the Israelites suffered for his infidelity. But he remained the dominant figure in the OT narrative, even to the extent that Matthew shows Christ’s genealogical ties to David. What is striking about Matthew’s birth narrative is that he also mentions Uriah. Like the Hebrew narratives, Matthew does not try to shield readers from knowing the worst about their biblical heroes. At the same time, those biblical heroes remain heroes despite their failings.
Americans cannot handle such truth. George Washington never lied. And then he owned slaves and there goes American greatness. Abraham Lincoln was a devout Christian. He has yet to come down from that pedestal (except in certain sectors of the South) even though Lincoln’s beliefs were pretty squishy. The NFL is a great league with a great product. But heaven forbid that the league employs a wife beater as one of its stars.
The best punishment for Rice’s crimes would have been to have him still part of the team and part of the weekend television package. That way the NFL would have had to suffer, along with Rice. And fans would have had to experience the strange mixture of revulsion and delight, offended by Rice’s behavior off the field and ecstatic over his football success. Oh, wretched people that we are.