Friday, August 01, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> NFL wrong on many levels with Ray Rice

Leader sports editor

With its decision to suspend Ray Rice for just two games for knocking his fiancé unconscious in a Las Vegas hotel elevator, the National Football League has indicated that women do not matter to them and has exacerbated the problem of today’s young prospects torpedoing their own opportunities.

Rice, the starting running back for the Baltimore Ravens and one of the premier players in the league, is seen on hotel surveillance cameras dragging an unconscious woman out of the elevator and leaving her prostrate on the floor. He looks up for help, then sets her up, slumped over in the doorway of the elevator, before walking away.

Reports say a camera inside the elevator shows Rice punching the woman, who is now, bewilderingly, his wife.

The NFL issues four-game suspensions for first-time marijuana use offenders. Apparently, violent behavior isn’t as serious to the NFL – or at least violent behavior against women. Players are suspended constantly for tackling other players too harshly, and suspended for more games than Rice has been for punching a woman in the face with his fist.

If you take a gander behind the sidelines at an NFL game, you’ll see it does have a use for women – as leading cheers.

Women are objects in the NFL, and in most NFL cities, they are objects that don’t even deserve minimum wage.

Why those women continue to choose to be objectified is just as confusing as why Miss Janay Palmer decided, after being knocked out, to become Mrs. Janay Rice. But that’s a column for someone with more understanding of the subject.

Concerning the NFL’s attitude towards women, consider that since 2000, USA Today reports there have been 84 NFL players arrested for domestic abuse. That’s an average of six per year. We’re constantly reading about players suspended for drunk driving or drug or weapons possession. Can anyone name three, not including Rice, cases of NFL domestic violence?

It’s just not an issue for the league.

Yet Rice’s punishment from the NFL was more severe than his legal punishment. He pleaded not guilty, and still somehow avoided a trial, and will be allowed to enter an intervention program.

This leads us to the second problem. Athletically talented young men today think they can get away with acting a fool because they see it happen with other famous athletes.

They watch video of a freakishly strong, 210-pound man beat a 110-pound woman unconscious in public, and see that nothing happens to him. In their own still small world, they are the standout athletes, and the conclusion is that they can do whatever they want, too. This isn’t the entirety of process, but it is part of it, and decisions like the one the NFL just made perpetuates its part.

The Leader coverage area has seen a rash of opportunities wasted by local athletes just in the last few months.

Jacksonville’s Robert Harris sits in jail awaiting trial for capital murder exactly one year after dazzling scouts in his comeback from a gruesome, season-ending injury in 2012.

Lonoke’s Clarence Harris died last weekend at the age of 25 in a high-speed automobile accident. There’s nothing to indicate that accident was caused by or during any other illegal behavior, but Clarence Harris did, at 18 years old, sabotage Division I scholarship opportunities by continually getting into trouble. Harris had offers from several major colleges, but the bad decision-making ruined at most, a chance at a professional sports career, and at least a free college degree.

In May, North Pulaski’s Joe Aikens blew a six-figure scholarship to play basketball for the Air Force Academy after being arrested for second-degree battery.

What motivates any child to go down such roads is a question experts have tried to answer and prevent. Most of the answers have to do with those kids thinking there are no options. That’s just not the case with kids like the three mentioned, and countless others who have done similar things.

All is not yet lost for Aikens, who is still only 18. All wasn’t lost for Clarence Harris when he first started getting into trouble. He was given a second chance by a brief but largely successful program at Pulaski Tech designed specifically to offer second chances. He blew that one, too. It’s been shared that Clarence Harris had truly turned his life around when the accident happened last weekend – which makes it all the more tragic, but one can’t help but wonder how differently things may have turned out if he’d made the right choices when those huge opportunities were in front of him instead of behind him.

For Robert Harris, who is still only 17, the verdict is literally still out. But if he’s found guilty, the only opportunity he’ll have is a lot of time to think. He could still get straight, but he’ll probably never be free.

Aikens already has his second chance. His charges were dropped, and while the Air Force Academy will no longer have him, he has signed to play basketball at a junior college in Oklahoma. He could interpret all that two different ways. He could see his behavior as costing him a life-changing opportunity at a prestigious military school, or he could see it as him being such a good player he got away with it and can still play ball.

If it’s the former, at worst he’ll get a college degree out of it. If it’s the latter, at worst he could end up like either Harris.