Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday's Musings on Sports - Can Anyone Keep Their Hands to Themselves

Unless you have been living under a rock, you could not have missed the explosion of domestic violence related cases in football this year. It started during the pre-season when NFL President Roger Goodell announced that Baltimore Ravens' RB Ray Rice would be suspended two games in connection with a domestic violence related prosecution in New Jersey. At the time, little was known publicly about the underlying facts, as the only information leaked was a video showing Rice dragging his then girlfriend out of an elevator.

Although Rice had already entered a pre-trial diversion program which was intended to address first time offenders, there were more than a few who criticized the punishment as being too lenient, especially in comparison with punishments being meted out for substance abuse and or drunk driving incidents. 

Soon after the two game suspension was announced, Goodell made a mea culpa and admitted that he had been too soft by only assessing a two game suspension. As such, in late August, the NFL announced a policy for dealing with domestic violence offenses - a six game suspension for the first offense and a lifetime ban for a repeat offender.

Goodell's new policy, however well intentioned, was unable to protect him from the fallout when a tabloid website released the video of what happened in that elevator, Once the public saw that Rice had struck his then girlfriend and knocked her unconscious, the NFL came under pressure and the league changed Rice's punishment to an indefinite suspension.

The lawyer in me wondered how the NFL could change the punishment when the underlying facts were unchanged. After all, Rice had entered the pre-trial intervention program and had made a disclosure to the NFL as to the nature of his act. If the NFL had deemed that the act was only worthy of a two game suspension, how could they alter the punishment?

Adding to my feelings of unease with the NFL decision was the heartfelt statement made by Rice's now wife as to how hurt she was by the release of the video of the assault in the elevator. While the public clamored for a more severe punishment, the victim had made her peace with the man who struck her and the two were now married. Instead of putting the incident behind them, the NFL now wanted to punish Rice again and bring the story back to the forefront. Could anyone actually believe that the NFL's action was anything more than damage control?

While all of this was percolating, other stories of domestic violence began to emerge. Pro Bowl Defensive End Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers had been allowed to play in week one of the NFL season, even though he had been convicted of domestic violence. Similarly, San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald was not going to be suspended even though he too had been charged with a domestic violence crime. And then news broke late Friday that All Pro running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings had been indicted for striking his four year old child with a switch (I have learned this is a tree branch).

All of these incidents incurring within a short period of time can cause one to wonder about this professional sport where athletes get paid for violent behavior. Out of the four major professional sports, there is nothing with more violence than football and maybe questions need to be asked as to whether these athletes can draw the line between aggression on the playing field and aggressive behavior towards their spouses and children.

Although the Monday post is usually devoted to a link between sports and a Torah thought, I find it difficult to make a connection this evening. The Torah does not condone violence towards one's spouse. Even as it relates to discipline of children, there are strict parameters and there are even rules as to the age of the child being subject to discipline. I will leave it with this - I can recall a shiur from R' Mansour where he recounted that a certain Rav hit his child in order to teach him that the child's behavior was wrong. When striking the child, the Rav said to him, "I am not doing this because I am angry." But I think to myself, while a child may need a potch to teach him a lesson, how can anyone justify striking their spouse?

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