Week 15 NFL Pick Against the Spread

Update: Season record to date…..let’s see, carry the 1, divide by the hypotenuse, multiply by the square root of the cube… Wait, no, I just found it. Each week in all its laborious glory: Right down to the “who’s gonna play tough” guesswork more relevant than who’s going to stop which player – since stopping x or y guy on the field sounds great, but is present every game for all players as a team.

That is, two things matter in picking games: Which team is better at the moment and where the game is being played. And who is more likely to play hard.

Most of the stuff we hear about who will win because this or that team can “run the ball well” or something similar, sounds great; but doesn’t matter.

If team A, for example, struggling with the pass and relying on the run, andnow facing team B who is “guess what,” good at stopping the run (an analysis I just heard on an excellent flagship football show offered as rationale for why team A would lose), that means team B is weaker at stopping the pass. Which against a struggling passing team who can use the weak pass defense help so they can introduce balance back to their offensive attack, may be even more relevant than the fact their opponents are good at stopping the run.

Or it may not be. And if team B is also stronger at stopping the pass, it simply means team B has a good defense. Which means Team A’s defense catches a break. Or it team B also has a good offense, it means team B simply has a better football team, which is the real reason team A is more likely to lose. Etc., etc.

In contrast to analysis that makes it sound otherwise, it’s extremely hard to pick out in advance which team will play well against another team apart from a) how good they are, and b) how hard they are going to play. And the best way to determine this is history (and even then that’s often because one team tends to play hard, or “charged up” against another one), or on rare occasion a particular talent by one team that offsets a talent by the other that most other teams can’t seem to stop; but trying to figure this out in advance often gets confused with simply focusing in one area of the game and not realizing it is offset by other areas. And that if it’s not offset by other areas, it usually simply means that one team is better than the other one, which is why they are more likely to win.

Thus a lot of analysis we hear about which team is going to win that doesn’t focus on who is actually better, and who is likely to play better in that particular game, sounds great, but isn’t otherwise of as much value as it sounds. That’s why many picks you read even by experts at the country’s leading sports sites, against the spread at least, (or straight up for otherwise very close games) are about the same as a coin flip. Or worse.

That said, the picks here ain’t much better:  Season history to date: Week 14: 4-4. Week 13: 4-4 Week 12: 4-3.  Week 11: 4-2-1. Week 10: 3-3. Week 9 3-3. “Debacle week” 8: 3-5.  Week 7: 2-1 Season record to date: 27-25-1, not counting the 1-0 record this week so far.(28-25 -1, or 29-25-1 including last Thursday, with outside verification that the Browns at +6 were a “pick em” possible upset pick at the Bengals back in week 10, but I didn’t get to this column in time. I ranted about it as if I had 40,000 dollars on the game, 5 million weekly readers, and was in a heads up season long gentleman’s wager with the far funnier Bill Simmons (nice picks column here by Simmons, for example) for post season bragging rights, rather than – well – really no real reason at all.)

Though, we are here sporting a perfect record so far with (sparingly offered) upset picks.

That should change this week however – can’t keep hitting on every one. Plus this week has two outright upset pick calls. And really, they are both close games rather than strong favorites to pull an upset. (Though given the teams involved, as you’ll see below, that doesn’t necessarily mean the games should be close if the upset team loses; but in the case of one at least it should.)

Cardinals (+6) at Rams, Thursday Night Football

This is simple. Over the past several weeks, and notwithstanding a close loss at San Diego 3 weeks ago, the St. Louise Rams have been close to the best team in football. The cardinals have overachieved. And Drew Stanton is not even close to Carson Palmer at quarterback. (Update: Stanton got hurt, and Ryan Lindley – who will likely start next week and probably the week after that for the Cardinals, before Stanton, with the same type of MCL sprain that sidelined Larry Fitzgerald for two games a little earlier in the season, can return for the playoffs – is not even close to Drew Stanton at quarterback. Though when not throwing passes that traveled closer to opponents than his own teammates, he otherwise showed good judgment and quick decision making.)

And, just before the just below the surface potential of the St. Louis Rams (for two seasons now) finally exploded, they went into Arizona in week 10 and were leading 14-10 early in the 4th quarter (against a Carson Palmer led team), before they fell apart (right after, ironically, Palmer tore his ACL).

Since then they’ve beaten the Denver Broncos 22-7 – holding them scoreless in the second half in the process – lost 24-27 at the San Diego Chargers, beaten the Oakland Raiders 52-0, and beaten the Washington Redskins in Washington, 24-0. (The team that traded away half of its draft to this same Rams team back in 2012, so they could draft a quarterback who is now benched.)

But the Cardinals, who still have to face the Seattle Seahawks and who have seen their once dominant division lead fall to a slim one game lead (and they’ve already lost to the Seahawks once), won’t go down without a fight.

The edge to win the game goes to the team who is better right now, and who is playing for something as important to this team as making the playoffs:  The pride of running the table and showing they not only belong in what is still the toughest overall division in football, but that they might be able to soon take it.

Six points, however, is too many against a desperate team that will battle, in a likely lower scoring game between two defensive oriented clubs, in what shapes up to be one of the most interesting games of the season – and will remain so after the fact no matter how it turns out.

Very close, because right now the St. Louis Rams are probably the favorite to win the NFC West next year, and probably the entire NFC, but,

Pick: Cardinals

As always, the remainder of games picked against the spread will be added prior to late Sunday Game Day morning.

Update: Well, that time is now once again upon us.  But also notice how Thursday Night’s Pick went from “this is simple,” to “very close” by the end of the discussion.  It was simple. And, in hindsight, given the Cardinals outright 12-6 win, better if the “very close” was left off, which kind of lamefied my pick. (I’ll check with Webster’s D later to make sure they’ve finally included “lamefied,” as a verb. If not I’ll suggest it.)

Column/post/prattling is still to come on that strong Rams Cardinals contest, which from a pure NFL and football rather than “marquee” perspective, was an excellent one entering the game. And for some who like real defense –  and not just aerial shows up and down the field with less strategy – trickier scores, and defensive balance, was an excellent game as well.

There was also a series of two remarkable strategy decisions in a row in the game by the Cardinals, which will get a separate column/post/prattle fest, since they go to some of the key structural mechanics of the game being overlooked in routine “strategic” game decision situations, and that serve as excellent examples of each.

But that’s later to come. In the meantime, the Rams are, and will remain, next year’s dark horse pick. Watch out for them. And if they pick up some strong receiver and offensive line help, double watch out for them.

Also – though it seems “about as unlikely as if a multi million year level of change to the concentration of the same long lived greenhouse molecules responsible for keeping our earth from being a lifeless frozen ball of ice and rock hurtling to space somehow wouldn’t change earth’s climate” – if they happen to surreptitiously swap places with the New Orleans Saints, and thus clandestinely plant themselves into the thick of the AFC South instead of the current best division in football, triple watch out for them.

Unauthorized division swapping unfortunately is of course a tad bit unprecedented, and highly taboo by the basic rules.  (Though trading division places for draft picks might make for some interesting machinations, as teams foolishly give up draft picks in order to move into “easier” divisions, only to then see those divisions quickly turn strong.) Plus, the guys who makes the NFL schedule, along with the rest of us – and certainly the other teams – would probably need to find out about it at some point.

So okay, let’s face it: The Rams will still be in a division with the always under rated Arizona Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers (who will come back tough next year if Harbaugh remains) and the Legions of Boom up in Seattle, who seem to have gotten their boom on recently, and are not a team anybody wants to play right now. (Although Arizona plays them in week 16, just like last year. And, guess who – St. Louis – hits them up in Seattle to close out the season. In a game that might really wind up mattering for Seattle, both for the division title and a first round bye, or an extra game and wild card trip on the road or, pending, possibly even making the playoffs at all.)

But once again, right now, entering next year with the return of Sam Bradford and a young, hungry, improving team under a decent head coach, watch out for the Rams next year.

So let’s do some picks. Buckle up, this week’s are strong: (So I say now. Check back Monday.)

Raiders (+10) at Chiefs

This game is a bit lopsided from a spread perspective. If you follow football, do you really need the analysis here?  When a team is getting 1o points (even in today’s explosive score oriented NFL) and stands a legitimate chance of winning the game, there’s no decision to be made.

If you don’t think the lowly 2-11 Raiders have a legitimate chance to defeat even their now desperate for a win to stay alive, and playing at home, and hated, division rivals, you haven’t been playing close attention to football. (But don’t laugh too hard if the Raiders lose 28-13. Nothing is locked in gold in football except the idea that the Jaguars are awful and should be banished to the CFL, or get themselves yet another new GM (once again Shahid Kahn, I volunteer), or that the Titans didn’t have to be absolutely miserable this season (losing by at least 14 points in an astounding 8 out of their 11 losses so far this season) to prove an idea I suggested months ago in heavily questioning their offseason firing (though “questioning” is a nice word), of then head coach Mike Munchak.)

In week 12 Oakland wins their very first game of the season -against these very same Chiefs, 24-20.

They promptly go the following week and lose, 52-0.  And, lose to our very own dark horse Super Bowl contender for next season, the St. Louis Rams. (Here’s an interesting analysis of that next game, before the fact.)

Then, they apparently try a little harder the following week (last week) and pull off another big upset, against the San Francisco 49ers, 24-13. (24 seems to be their number in those rare instances they win games this season.)

So, now another post big win let down for the currently “over achieving” two win team? Or is it possible that the Raiders have learned their lesson.

Probably not. But being as this is the Chiefs, and the team that Oakland would probably rather beat than any team in the NFL – let alone sweep – for this game, they may have learned it.

And again, 10 is a lot of points for this much potential emotion, with a team that has shown it can beat the Chiefs, and- even if the Chiefs do need a division win badly to keep their season alive – that are playing a little better themselves.

It would be cool, but probably less likely that the Raiders sweep. But between their chances of winning the game outright, and their larger chances of at least playing with some serious spark to try and give their season some meaning by showing they can dominate at least one of the good teams in the division, 10 is still too large a number for this game even with some additional bad injury news for the somewhat depleted Raiders squad.

Pick: Raiders

Bengals (-1) at Browns

As Joey Lawrence used to so accurately say on the hip 90s sitcom “Blossom”: Whoa!

Johnny Football, the guy who stood in front of a more elderly crowd in cute leotards and led them through some dandy exercises before being woken up by an appropriately much older (and hence wiser) NFL player, the guy who captured the country’s sports heart with his swashbuckling style as a devil may care quarterback at Texas A&M who just won baby, gets his first start in the NFL. (While he also appropriately laughed off another set of silly (okay, stupid) comments by the Bengals head coach.) (Manziel incidentally was also the 837th pick of the 2014 Major League Baseball draft. Which put him, let’s see… again, carry the 1, divide by pie…. um, infinity spots ahead of me in that particular major league baseball draft.)

Last week, in foolishly picking the Bengals as 3 point favorites against Pittsburgh, this blog boldly stated:

The Bengals are simply a better football team. The question to be answered here is whether they have as much heart as Pittsburgh traditionally shows. Because Pittsburgh, more likely than not, will show it here.

Outscored 25-0 in the fourth quarter en route to their 42-21 home loss to Pittsburgh (whom they meet again in Pittsburgh to close out the season in week 17), that question was probably answered.

Now, embarrassed, and if the Bengals lose again this weekend with the Steelers able to vault ahead with a win at Atlanta (as can Baltimore with a win at Jacksonville, where they are 14 point favorites), will they show heart this game?

Maybe, maybe not. But given that they’re going against a still largely untested rookie making his first NFL start, on paper at least are still the better team, and have the strong revenge factor in a key playoff implication divisional game on their side, they’re the call to make here.

But still, how can you not root for Johnny JamBoogie?

I’ll be rooting for him and his semi underdog Browns to make this the wrong pick.

But, after their embarrassment at home to the Steelers last week to put Pittsburgh back into the race, if this Bengals team can’t even up the series against the Browns after getting demolished by them on national TV at home in week 10 (in my best pick on this blog that never officially got made), then Marvin Lewis, with his 0-5 playoff record, should walk out of the stadium and go join the Jaguars in Canada. (Or London, once Roger Goodell gets his way. Though if I was Jacksonville’s GM I wouldn’t let Lewis within 100 miles of the franchise,  unless it was as defensive coordinator, and with a standing gag order to desist from making medicinal related commentary on concussions, and other wildly inane statements that wholly miss the point of what was done wrong and incorrectly assumed with respect to concussions in the past.)

Pick: Bengals – Marvin’s team

Make this the wrong pick Johnny Boogie and a Browns team that repeatedly shows heart, and sweep those Tigers.

49ers (+9) at Seahawks

At some point this San Francisco team has to tailspin. And it looks like while earlier in the year they kept it somewhat together despite a bunch of injuries and rumors about head coach Jim Harbaugh leaving (which have only increased), that tailspin may now be happening. Particularly if the players are resigned to losing their head coach, and know they may be playing under new leadership (or even for a different team) next year.

And the Seahawks, who have gotten over their early post Super Bowl Championship slump (though the return of defensive superstars Kam Chancellor and in particular linebacker Bobby Wagner has certainly helped), would probably like little more than to pummel the 49ers once again; just as they did Thanksgiving evening just two weeks ago down in the Santa Clara area. (The 49ers new “home” digs.)

But this is the 49ers, and Harbaugh’s 4th season as a head coach in the league. He has taken them to the NFC championship game every one of this first three seasons. (And he didn’t take over all that great of a team, either.)

When he says all they really have left to play for at this point is “pride,” it may still mean something with this bunch.  And there’s little more prideful than being able to show that while they may be down and out, they can still go into Seattle and avenge their NFC championship game loss from last season and show they still got that swagger, and in effect declare, “come on 2015, bring it on, whoever leads our charge.”

They just may not have the ability to do it right now. And Seattle knows they’re going against a wounded team with a lot of pride, who have a fierce rivalry with them and who have won an awful lot of games over the last few seasons, with a chance at some serious season redemption. And so the Seahawks, who have lately been showing it anyway, likely won’t lose focus.

But given the rivalry and the potential for enormous passion on the part of the 49ers, which can make any game close – and the 49ers are by no means a bad team, yet are coming off a loss to the Oakland Raiders of all teams – this is a San Francisco call all the way.

Sure they could get pummeled, as Seattle likes to do to San Francisco, and has done to San Francisco a few times now up in Seattle recently when San Francisco was a lot better team even. But for this game, don’t necessarily bet on it.

Pick: 49ers

Broncos (-5) at Chargers

Yeah, Denver Broncos, Bla bla bla bla…

And Peyton Manning, who has suddenly been playing subpar (but the Broncos keep on winning) could at any moment turn into superman with a football (again); but this game is one of the better match-ups of the season, regardless.

And despite many claims to the contrary, when the Chargers played Denver back in late October (though a bit more injury riddled than at the moment, albeit they are still down to their 4th center, having lost a remarkable 3 total successive starting centers to season ending injuries), and lost 35-21, the Chargers actually did get outplayed.

But, while it doesn’t matter too too much where the game is being played when these two teams meet, this is December; it is in San Diego; the Chargers need the game badly, the Broncos don’t (as much, though it’s true they do need it, and they don’t want to have to go up to New England to advance); the Chargers, despite that earlier season loss, know how to battle Denver in general; and, most importantly, “this is Philip Rivers time”: That is, late November and December – with a shot at a playoff berth with wins – is where this quarterback has shone like no one else in the league apart from someone named Tom Brady.

It doesn’t mean he will again, or that the better team here – Denver – won’t win. But this is more likely the Chargers game for the taking. Upset pick; Chargers win outright.

Thus, against the spread, naturally,

Pick: Chargers 

Packers (-5) at Bills 

Yes, the Packers could be facing the Patriots (or someone else) in the Super Bowl later this season. (Or it could just as easily if perhaps not more easily be the Seahawks – with the Lions, Cowboys, Eagles, and the always under respected Arizona Cardinals with decent enough shots to also unseat them.)

But the Bills, by sacking Aaron Rodgers more times than the Packers recently improving offensive line would prefer, and smacking the ball away a few times in the process, send the ‘Pack packing, and pull off the surprise upset.  Even if their normal December “cold Buffalo weather “advantage might be somewhat nullified by a team seemingly from the Midwest’s version of Alaska – aka, Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Pick: Bills

Dolphins (+7.5) at Patriots

Yes, the Patriots actually held the Chargers to negative yards rushing in the second half in their win last week in San Diego.

Yes the Patriots have dominated this division this entire millennium, and are on a roll right now to boot.

And yes the Dolphins haven’t dominated anything but the occasional autumn sport news headlines down in South Florida. And are rolling themselves, but off of a resounding 28-13 home loss to the Ravens last week in a game they needed to win.

But Miami probably isn’t done speaking yet this season. And have beaten the Patriots 2 out of the last 3 times the two teams have met. (Though both wins were at home.  And they were swept by the Patriots the season before – 2012, and lost by 10 up in New England last season, and 28-0 the season before to close out the year.)

The points are also a little iffy this game, since it’s really a question of whether Miami comes into New England with its ears pinned back – then watch out, it’s anybody’s game. If not, there’s a pretty strong chance the Patriots win this by well more than touchdown.

Balancing that out, this is a decent number of points, even against a Patriots team hitting its stride, and whose defense is really coming together, against a divisional rival team capable of beating them and who probably wants to, badly.

It’s a tough pick, because under Joe Philbin the Dolphins haven’t really ever taken that full step to the next level. And just when it looked like they may have slipped in under the radar to become a strong team this year, they lost at the end in Detroit in week 10, and have slipped back into a just barely on the outside looking in team, once again – needing that win at home last week against the Ravens, a team that under head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco, has repeatedly beaten the Dolphins.

This might be one of the weaker picks of the week (though by accident it would look genius if the Dolphins pull off the upset).  The reason behind it is the idea that Miami will go in and give it their all and then some, and make it a tough game all around. If that call is wrong – and we’ll know soon enough -well, then, this pick is a pretty bad one:

Pick: Dolphins

Catch you on the flip side, as we sift through the wreckage after the fact of this week’s picks. (Whoever “you are,” as right now the only verified devotedly regular reader of this blog is my neighbor’s cat “Frenchie,” who somehow has learned to read in English, and taken a penchant – very surprising for a cat – toward watching football of all things, ever since Dish TV cancelled his favorite mice marathon racing channel.)


America’s New Sport

Old National Pastime: Football.

New National Pastime: Piling on National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, over his poor and haphazard seeming handling of the game suspension of former Ravens running back Ray Rice under the league’s player conduct policy, for a first time incident last winter where a drunken Rice heavily struck his then fiance, also drunk; causing her to fall down, hit her head, and be temporarily knocked out.

(It appears that although this certainly does not excuse or even mitigate the initial causative action, Rice’s fiance at the time, then Janay Palmer, now Janay Rice, was knocked out in part because of the alcohol, and was not too badly harmed, relatively speaking anyway.)

Although Goodell initially apologized after imposing a rather tepid appearing two game suspension, and revamped the league’s specific domestic violence policy to a six game suspension for a first time offense, at issue is whether Goodell or the league had seen a copy of the security camera footage showing the blow to likely be harder and more direct than, perhaps, the NFL had believed.

Or, more pertinently, did the video show the blow be harder and more direct than the league had been in part led or encouraged to believe, by a somewhat hypocritical Ravens football team (or Rice): A team which otherwise, when the video did surface, dropped Rice from the team like a hot potato, and likely prompted the Commissioner, at least in part, into his similarly knee jerk “indefinite league suspension of Rice,”also just hours after the video was released just this past September 8.

In some of the Ravens’ defense, head coach John Harbaugh, along with director of player personnel George Kokinis, according to a recent ESPN OTL investigative report, wanted to cut Rice back when the incident initially occurred. According to the report, Harbaugh was likely overruled by others in the organization, some of who may have had a somewhat pollyannaish view of the incident.  (According to the ESPN, likely not President Dick Cass, who is alleged to have been told the tape was “f_ _ _ing horrible,” by Rice’s attorney Michael Diamondstein.) And who in some part looked at Rice as family – particularly since Rice otherwise had an unblemished record, had named his and Janay’s daughter “Rayven,” in honor of the team, had the Baltimore part of the team name tattooed on his forearm, had raised millions of dollars in charity money for sick children, and whose wife Janay stood staunchly by this side and defended him over the incident.)

The released video of the actual battery by Rice (a doctored clip by celebrity news site TMZ that further brands the image into viewers minds by looping the single blow over and over repeatedly), provoked even more of an uproar than had the initial announcement of the two game suspension.

And it do so, notwithstanding the earlier apology over the original short suspension, and the toughening of the league’s domestic violence policy, announced back in late August: In other words, as if the public, as well as the NFL, now knew something much different. (When the basic and relevant facts appeared simply to be visualized by the video, not altered.)

Making the original handling of the matter seem even much more extreme and indefensible than it was, as suggested here and here, the Ravens did then immediately cut Rice within a few hours of the video surfacing. They should not have done this since they elected not to initially, particularly since, as several Ravens seem to make clear, Rice leveled with them).

Making matters worse, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also, again within hours of the release of the video, and after the Ravens had cut him, then suspended Rice indefinitely from the league. Goodell quite possibly did this in ill thought out knee jerk reaction to the Ravens action, the initial inappropriately short suspension, the public outcry, and some sort of – again, ill thought out – attempt to fix damage to the NFL’s image and their handling of this matter.

And yesterday, this piece appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, on the issue. It is a piece that seems to throw all sense of proportion and perspective to the wind; something that, if not always to such an exaggerated degree, has been seemingly commonplace with respect to this latest national soap opera and largely nationally imagined monster scandal issue.

It is a soap opera fueled by the otherwise somewhat irrelevant fact that it revolves around a disturbing issue that otherwise receives too little attention – and one which, outside of this one of tens of thousands of such incidents that involve an NFL player and a botched handling of the player’s league game suspension penalty, is likely still receiving too little of the right kind of attention:

That is, the issue of domestic violence: A problem which appears to be slightly less prevalent among NFL players than in society at large, not far more prevalent. But even if the research suggesting that it is less prevalent is incorrect (and there could be several reasons for this), it is still a very widespread and systemic problem among society at large, as much as in the NFL.

Goodell’s handling of the matter, nevertheless, has been very poor, and more than a little ironic, as some NFL players are mildly delighted about some of the heavy scapegoating scrutiny being heaped upon Goodell. Goodell, who, himself, has for years been arbiter, judge, jury and moral dictator, as far as the league goes, for NFL players – and (until now) resistant to reasonably ceding some of that excessive authority to independent arbitration for player disputes.

As Sally Jenkins, in the provocative article on the matter linked to above therein re-emphasizes, former NFL over achiever and defensive standout James Harrison, who hates Goodell (“‘I’d have whispered in his ear, ‘Why don’t you quit and do something else, like start your own league in flag football?‘”) famously tweeted after the initial story broke (and which was re-tweeted over 29,000 times): “Ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun, huh?”

Meaning that Goodell always had all the power, dictating what the terms would be for everyone else. Now everyone is shooting for Goodell, instead. (Harrison, who received several penalties by the league for hard hits during his playing time, also humorously tweeted to Goodell what penalty Goodell might impose for his own negligence in overseeing this matter.)

But all this, while a “good,”if unsettling story on its root issue, doesn’t mean this is the scandal of the century, or that Goodell’s conduct has been dastardly or involved what we would consider classic, serious “wrong doing.” Implementing player suspensions is a discretionary, voluntary aspect of the NFL, not a law, and there are human considerations and judgments to be made – even when, as in this case, the issue seems to have been botched through a series of interconnected errors and possibly even prejudices.

Yet the San Francisco Chronicle (it’s fine headline notwithstanding), takes unintentional hyperbole and satire of our new national soap opera to new heights, when, not in satire, the article states that an investigation into Goodell and his NFL team’s handling by a former director of the FBI (which if anything is overkill, and ill-thought for other reasons), overseen by two of most well respected of the thirty two team owners (The Giants John Mara and the Steelers Art Rooney) who employ Goodell and his NFL operators, and for whom the investigation is largely being conducted, is not independent enough

Considering how important the probe is.

“Considering how important the probe is”?

Domestic violence is the important issue, not the “probe” about how the NFL handled what was still a routine league disciplinary matter with minimal consequence to the larger issue.

Yet according to this article, the probe into how the NFL arrived at its “arbitrary” employer related (and completely discretionary) suspension, is so important, that even conducting such an investigation in the first place is not enough. And even having said otherwise unneeded “investigation,” be conducted by a former FBI Director, of all people, is not enough, just because he works for a large law firm that has done business with the NFL, never mind that the investigation is ultimately for the NFL, not some other independent national body or state. Yet this is something which also seems to have been completely lost, even though it remains the most fundamental point regarding this completely discretionary investigation – and one for the NFL owners to learn better how this was handled.

What is this probe over? A cover-up of a huge national crime and subversion of our national election or legislative process?

No. Again, it’s over whether an NFL player got a 2 or 6 (or, above the new policy, 8) game, totally league policy determined, and totally up to the league, suspension, for conduct unrelated to football but consisting of off the field illegal behavior that was already addressed by our legal system, and whether it was “handled right,” by the league therein.

And over whether the NFL saw or ignored a video that may have prevented the NFL from issuing its original watered down 2 game suspension – which it apologized for anyway, before any such video came out. And which would instead have, or should have, correctly caused the player under the specific new league policy instituted after the initial 2 game suspension was issued – and sensibly, under the old policy – to be issued the more appropriate 6 game suspension.

“Yes, this certainly requires an independent counsel at least as dramatic and independent as the Warren Commission, no doubt.” Or maybe the 9/11/01 Commission, the United Nations, or the IPCC. Certainly not something as “measly” as a former FBI Director who works for a law firm that, gasp, has done work for the league, over a completely discretionary and voluntary league game play suspension over otherwise unrelated off the field illicit behavior.

And over the mishandling of a player suspension length that was initially too low, with perhaps insufficient weight given to the chance that the facts were a little less Pollyannaish than the NFL or some on Rice’s team wanted to believe, and the subsequent and somewhat knee jerk alteration of that suspension to a level that was probably too high, and certainly in contravention of the new suspension length for such first time offenses under the very same new domestic violence incidence policy just instituted.  And for an unrelated outside of employment related first time offense which the Country Prosecutor, too leniently or not, saw fit to recommend for a more effective and proactive PreTrial Intervention rather than a likely conviction and probation.

Yes, in keeping, albeit satirically, with the non satirical spirit of the Chronicle’s piece, that certainly is THE scandal of the millennium; and requires a commission of historic national and international significance, and not just by a measly former FBI Director, as so aptly noted in the Chronicle. Itself normally a fine newspaper, but here, joining in the national  hysteria “just a wee bit”; if here the word “wee” in fact is to mean, “to an excessive degree – rather than doing what good journalism is supposed to do – serve as a check upon it.

Maybe when we are done with that, or the NFL is done with that, or both, the broader issue of domestic violence, can be more relevantly, and a little less hysterically, addressed.

Two Key Things Overlooked in the Ray Rice NFL Roger Goodell Brouhaha

An initial two game suspension, over a domestic violence incident, for then Baltimore running back Ray Rice handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell this summer, led to a public outcry over its seeming leniency.

Subsequently, Goodell re-examined how the NFL had handled the issue, and issued a public apology, stating, “we didn’t get it right,” and took full responsibility for it.

Concomitant with that proclamation, Goodell also stated the NFL was toughening its domestic violence policy for any employees in the NFL. Under this new policy, a first time domestic violence offense would carry a six game suspension.  A second offense would carry a ban from the league, with the right to petition for reinstatement after a period of one year.

Less than two weeks ago, a TMZ procured video publicly emerged of the actual incident – showing what many thought we already knew – Rice hitting his then fiance sufficient to knock her down, hit her head, and cause her to temporarily lose consciousness as a result. But it also showed – or clarified – that the punch was not all half-hearted, but delivered in fairly brutal appearing fashion.

So, boom. The NFL, in response, argued that the video showed the facts to be not quite what the NFL thought or was led to believe, even despite the NFL’s apology only a few weeks before, and that therefore “suspending” the initial two game suspension and instituting a full six game NFL suspension for Rice, at least consistent with the NFL’s new domestic violence rules, was appropriate and warranted.

Except the NFL didn’t.

Within a matter of only a few hours after the video surfaced on TMZ on Monday, September 8, Ray’s team, the Baltimore Ravens, who assumedly should have known that Rice had hit his fiance on purpose, that she had fallen, hit her head, and was knocked out, acted as if the video was one of the more frightful and “new,” things ever seen, and immediately cut Rice from the team. (Although as that last link shows, head coach John Harbaugh, on the other hand, did appear generous in terms of the team’s, or at least Harbaugh’s, continued commitment toward otherwise being supportive of, and available for, Rice.)

Shortly after and again within a few hours total of the public release of the video, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely. (Note, in the second draft of this article, I wrote “Goodell” instead of Rice. It was probably a Freudian slip. And perhaps a good idea.)

Why was not clear.  But, along with the Ravens’ actions, it made it seem as if the video conflicted tremendously with what had been known and thought.  Yet the video, while it may have added some information (though that is still not completely clear), showed what was generally thought to be already known. Rice hit her – hard, as it turns out, she fell, and knocked her head.

And, this response of the Ravens and the NFL made it seem as if the video was some sort of stunning revelation for the NFL. And therefore, and notwithstanding their subsequent apology over it and statement of domestic violence policy intensification as a result – it made the NFL’s initial handling of the matter appear completely out of sync with the NFL’s general illegal off the field activity guidelines and policies. And made the NFL and Goodell in particular, appear even more insensitive to the issue of domestic violence.

Thus, despite the initial, pre-video appearance apology, it made it seem like the NFL didn’t really pay attention to the matter initially, and that it treated or treats domestic violence like some sort of lesser issue.

In short, it made the NFL seem as if it had its hand caught in the cookie jar. Only it wasn’t cookies here, it was domestic violence, and the brutal image of an athletic running back lashing out and violently punching his fiance and immediately felling her to the ground; and then, in footage already seen months earlier, acting drunk and indifferent while trying to move her out of the elevator, until a hotel employee appeared and asked him to hold up.

And, in short, it was also one of the most ill advised moves the NFL could possibly have made. By the Ravens and the NFL engaging in this knee jerk, and rather severe fashion almost immediately upon the release of the video, it made it seem as if the NFL, despite issuing punishment even more severe than under its new, reasonably strong, domestic violence policy, was soft on domestic violence and trying to cover up for a mistake, as if it hadn’t already acknowledged that mistake – thereby undoing the commissioner’s initial forthcoming-ness and humble, candid, acknowledgement of said mistake, and also making it seem that the NFL didn’t know what it was doing.

The facts as to how and why the NFL handled this the way that it did are still not fully known – although as of just this afternoon, courtesy of an explosive new report by ESPN’s Outside the Lines, it has become more apparent that the Ravens played a large role in the initial mild handling of this by the NFL. Which in turn complicated the matter for the NFL. Which, in turn, from a PR standpoint, itself then handled the matter abysmally. That is, as the ESPN link suggests, the Ravens’ president was allegedly told that the video was “f***ing horrible” appearing, and other Raven personnel reportedly had the video described to them.

What is known is what happened:  Rice and his then Fiance Janay Palmer (now Janay Rice), both drunk – Janay apparently, and possibly both of them – very much so, walked into an elevator in an Atlantic City casino, in a spat. According to the AP, which was played a recording of the elevator security tape not made available to the public which included audio, they were cursing at each other. Inside the elevator, as the footage has clearly shown America, Janay, moving toward him, barely tapped Rice, just as she had several yards outside of the elevator – about as much of a threat as a kitten is to a Lion.

Rice then cold cocked her with one very swift punch, causing her to fall over. On the way down, she hit her head on the elevator railing, and in her inebriated state, apparently passed out.

Rice – as has already been well known since both the NFL and the public had seen this part of the footage months before the NFL issued its suspension – then awkwardly, and without much apparent concern, tried to move Janay out of the elevator, at which point a hotel employee approached him and apparently directed him to hold off. The employee also immediately stated, according to AP reports, “no police.”

Drunk or not, and regardless of what Janay said to Rice during the incident, the striking of her was despicable and unacceptable. Almost everyone agrees with this.

What it has turned into, however, is a verbal near lynching of the NFL and in particular it’s commissioner, Roger Goodell.

There are likely four specific reasons why: the power of image; the fast acting “story of the week” tendency in our current media and Internet age; the unsettling and emotional aspect of the troubling issue of domestic violence; and, last and most of all, the NFL’s, and in particular, Goodell’s handling of the matter.

Thus, in essence, a private citizen, engaging in a disturbing and almost brutal seeming one time punch of his fiance which was reviewed by the applicable court system and somewhat surprisingly deemed acceptable for Pretrial Intervention instead of a trial and possible sentencing, and who was initially suspended for two games as a result, and then ultimately suspended indefinitely while being simultaneously cut from his team, has turned into one of the largest sports scandals in years. And one which at least one or two otherwise reputable sources have otherwise called “possibly the biggest sports scandal of all time.”

But what’s the real scandal?

The NFL in part at least created this appearance of scandal, or at least its possibility if the media and public, then ran with it, by seemingly trivializing domestic violence in the public eye by initially handing out a two game suspension in contrast with the harsher suspensions the NFL often hands out for victim-less off the field incidents; then issuing an apology for doing so and then nevertheless still acting as if the video made public a little under two weeks ago – and which actually shows footage that the county prosecutor and judge, but not the public (nor, allegedly, the NFL) saw – somehow completely changed the facts of the case, rather than serve as a clarification of and possible augmentation to what basic evidence already existed.

The appearance of an NFL out of control was then, by sheer unlucky serendipity, made to appear much worse, when, in addition to two other pending domestic violence cases, perhaps its premier player at the same position Rice had played – running back – and a player who has been very active in children’s charities, was within days of the release of the Rice video suddenly charged with child abuse:  for using a tree branch, called a “switch,” to discipline his child to the point where the resulting wounds were alarming enough to lead the treating emergency room to call authorities for possible abuse.pictures, and pictures of which (in terrible places no less, likely caused by the child writhing and twisting to try to avoid the blows) were despicable.

This also raised the unsettling issue of child abuse, and, now that the issue of domestic violence was already in the forefront, added to the image of an NFL and (even though it was not the commissioner who beat his 4 year old with a switch),  a commissioner out of control. It also created a debate as to whether corporeal punishment is ever called for when disciplining children (a separate question as well from the issue of type, and degree). My answer is no – but if some parents feel differently, a one or two time slap on a soft spot on the body, never done in anger and with complete communication as to why, at least keeps the discussion within the bounds of reason.

With respect to the Ray Rice issue, which the timing of this unfortunate “domestic violence child abuse” incident only further magnified, all of the attention on the matter is good in terms of the negative attention being brought to the troubling issue of domestic violence (or, hopefully, violence of any kind).

It has not been so good for the NFL, Ray Rice, apparently his now wife, Janay Rice or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

But in so heavily scapegoating the NFL, as well as Goodell, there are two very key factors being overlooked here: What the suspension ultimately should have been, and why.  And consideration of the actual victim in this matter; this is the person that was hit, not the public, not Goodell, not the NFL, and not Ray Rice.

This article is not a defense of Goodell.  In fact, subjectively, and based in part upon my own personal biases about the game, I personally have been in favor of replacing Goodell as commissioner for a long time. I believe that for many true fans of the game of football itself, and not just fans of watching teams score, Goodell’s continued and heavy emphasis on rule changes that favor the offense over the defense, and in particular wide receivers over defensive backs, has watered down the quality and balance of the game; that his heavy push for a playoff expansion would denigrate the current excellent weighted playoff bye system, dilute the value of the most important later season games and differences between teams and what they do in their divisions, and undermine perhaps the most brilliant overall playoff structure in all of sports; and that, ironically even given this Rice situation where he initially appeared to have been overly soft, that Goodell is morally high handed.

And now Goodell’s very poor, inconsistent, and, ironically, still seemingly morally high handed handling of the Ray Rice incident, is only another very strong reason why.

But as poorly as Goodell and the NFL have handled this matter, those two key factors just mentioned are being left out in our overall consideration and assessment on the issue and on the NFL and Goodell.  And for a better, fairer, more even handed assessment, they need to be considered.

The first is that the Ray Rice Janay Rice incident is a perfect example of a first time domestic violence offense. Rice hit his then fiance and now wife very hard, and alcohol is never an excuse. But alcohol can be a slightly mitigating factor, and with both of them fairly drunk, it is here.  It also likely played a large role in her getting knocked out.

One punch is enough to kill someone, and is never excusable, and in such an instance as this – it is reprehensible.  But Rice did only throw one punch. His prior record had been clean, even outstanding. His conduct afterward was extremely contrite and cooperative, and he did immediately start counseling, whether under advice of his attorney (almost assuredly), or not.

Additionally, the county court system that dealt with this, however “minor” it may have been relative to the types of even more awful and harm causing incidents that Atlantic Country Superior Court may be used to dealing with, did review all the evidence, including the aforementioned tape, and elected to forego prosecution in the matter.

The woman standing by Rice’s side after the incident was not, as far as the evidence goes, a victim of any prior domestic violence at his hands, but instead someone who has known him since high school, dated him since years ago in college, and who steadfastly tried to defend him.

In short, it is a perfect candidate for the new, standard, six game suspension under the new policy. (Note that this does not mean that Rice’s actions in terms of morality are = to a six game NFL suspension, since we do have a court system; but rather that the NFL, in additionally disciplining it’s players, takes the action of domestic violence serious enough so that even a one time, first incident, results in a suspension of over a third of the season, on top of whatever other punishment stems criminally from the illegal action.)

Yet the NFL – in a matter of hours, no less, making the video itself appear extreme in the public eye, again, suspended Rice indefinitely, while his team, the Baltimore Ravens, cut him.

This raises the unsettling question as to why.

Yet the first key factor of the two being overlooked, and regardless of how tortured the path of its arrival, is that Rice was not only suspended for an amount suggested or required under the new tougher guidelines, he was, essentially, suspended for more.

Rice should have been suspended for six games, which would have been in line with the policy, as well as a definite amount of games, and constituted a response that was not seemingly knee jerk, and, well, frankly, “all over the place” appearing.

But the Ravens cutting Rice as well on the same day – and also within hours – of the public appearance of the video, only made this haphazard reaction by the NFL more likely, since the Ravens strong reaction also made it seem as if there was a much larger gap between what was already known and what the video showed. And both actions in tandem- the Ravens and the NFL’s, after the video was released, made the NFL look even worse in terms of their initial handling of the matter, by again in tandem making it very strongly appear as if the video showed a remarkable new development of set of facts in the case.

The Ravens subsequent cutting of Rice upon public release of a video, is also highly questionable. It is awful, if, as reported by ESPN’s Outside the Lines Rice’s attorney actually told the Ravens back in April that, the video looked “F***ing horrible,” and if the Ravens head of security shared a detailed description of what happened inside the elevator with team officials, as also alleged. To be told this back then, and then cut Rice upon release of the video, seems in some ways unacceptable.

Outside the Lines reports that the “horrible” statement came from Rice’s attorney, Michael J. Diamondstein – who remember represents Rice, and is representing him now in his suit against the NFL for his handling of this matter – although the report does not disclose or make clear who the source of the allegation to Outside the Lines is; only revealing that Diamondstein was unavailable for comment.  The statement “looks f _ _ _ _ _ g horrible” depending on context, could also mean something very different, particularly coming from Rice’s own attorney – as if the video gives a very false impression, and unfairly makes Rice look bad. This might sound like a stretch to some in the public, but anyone who practices or has practiced law knows it to be relevant.

Additionally, the statement was reportedly made to Ravens president Dick Cass, and if so there is apparently no knowledge as to whether Cass shared that information with anybody. And judging by the countenance of John Harbaugh in that press conference linked to above, and knowing Harbaugh in terms of having studied the NFL for many years, if not intimately and personally, it is unlikely to have been shared with Harbuagh, or at least shared clearly, in terms of showing Rice engaging in the vile act that we now see it to have been.

The information offered in ESPN’s report also seems to strongly support this view as well. And it also renders Harbaugh’s actions, upon seeing the video, more consistent with his initial views on the matter. It does not however fully explain the NFL’s reaction.

It seems though, at least in part, that since Rice was an exemplary Raven and upstanding member of the community who had “raised millions” for sick children, the NFL was first pressured by the Ravens to make the suspension of Rice light, then was made to look bad when the Ravens, perhaps not wanting to believe that the punch was so direct or vicious looking, later cut Rice upon seeing, along with the public, the video.

But the NFL’s similarly knee jerk response only worsened matters, while the Ravens response is not the NFL’s fault. It is also interesting, and fairly important, that again, according to the ESPN article the Ravens – and apparently Harbaugh in particular – considered cutting Rice upon initial reports of the incident, but instead opted to back Rice. This put the NFL in a bad position when the video came to light.

In hindsight it is easy to say the video should have been procured. And if they were willing to cut Rice over throwing a drunken, direct and hard hitting punch to his drunken fiance, the Ravens should have procured it. (In an interview with Baltimore TV station WBAL last week, owner Steve Bisciotti cited specifically that as his largest regret.)

But the case for the NFL getting the video, in foresight – not hindsight – is weaker. The NFL and Goodell had the Ravens, seemingly reasonably, pushing for a light suspension of a guy who bled Baltimore purple, who had the city name tattooed on his forearms, who named his daughter after the team, and who, again, raised millions for sick kids.

The NFL, which is not necessarily supposed to sit in an appeal type of judgment over our court system, also had the relevant county superior court, which reviewed the very same video tape now so explosively in the forefront of this issue, declare Rice a candidate for Pretrial Intervention. And a prosecutor who would later not only make a fantastic point about how the outrage over domestic violence is great but that “reality is reality whether it is captured on video or not,” who also intimate knowledge of applicable courts, believed that while a conviction could be procured – and was unfair to put the victim through – there would only be probation sentenced in the matter.

As suggested here, the NFL did not really know what it was doing in this sensitive matter.  As a result, and despite issuing a harsher penalty than Rice should have gotten under its new, tougher policies, it made the NFL look extremely bad, as well as, ironically, somehow still appear soft on and somewhat insensitive to, domestic violence; by making it seem as if the NFL botched the handling of the Rice case initially even more than it did.

It has also helped make this into a much bigger issue than it needs to be, and helped feed our innate media and public desire for a sensational story.(And this one now has plenty of twists and turns and intrigue, drowning out the fact that at heart its just a simple voluntary employer suspension policy for unrelated illegal criminal behavior, albeit in a very public and tax exempt, venue.)

And it has hurt Rice (that is, in terms of the suspension he likely would have gotten under the new domestic violence policy, failing any pending grievance against the league over the matter), and more importantly his wife, who – foolish though many may judge her to be – has a right to stand by him, support him, and support his opportunity to play.

And which is the second key factor here:  The victim. Who apparently all but pleaded with the NFL to go easy on Ray; to give him a chance; and that (as foolish as such an argument is) it was partially her fault.

It’s never someone’s fault who is hit without said action being in clear self defense, in any situation, let alone a woman’s being hit by a man, and let alone a woman who is petite in relation to a powerful running back.

But Janay’s account of events, and her full support of Ray, is still relevant. Again, she is the victim here. Her say matters. The fact that battered or repeatedly abused women often sadly feel psychologically compelled to defend their abusers should not strip Janay, as the victim, of her basic rights and desires in this matter. Particularly given that there is apparently no prior evidence of abuse or violence. And also given that, improvidently or not, Rice was allowed into the Pretrial Intervention Prevention program and has an unblemished record before and since; a history of exemplary behavior; and Janay, so far as we know, a long and largely unblemished history with him.

Goodell was right to also try to take into account Janay’s wishes. Even if he was in error to listen to the Ravens (particularly in hindsight, when the team was later to cut Rice upon seeing the video, and apparently, according to the afore-linked ESPN report anyway, contemplated cutting him well prior to it), and even if he was in error for issuing such a seemingly insensitively short suspension for what was being labeled a domestic violence incident, which to the public at least appeared to involve alarming facts – Rice hit her, she fell as a result and was temporarily unconscious. And for which, and prior to the release of the video, Goodell acknowledged the mistake, and changed the league’s domestic violence policy as a result.

But Janay, as the victim, had some rights, and still has some rights, in this matter. And she deserves some say in it, which appears now to have possibly been shut out of the process, due to the way this affair has unfortunately evolved.

Yet Goodell likely was initially at least somewhat sensitive to and respectful of Janay’s strongly expressed wishes, as well.  And, without appearing to make excuses, he has intimated as much.  And perhaps, as suggested by the ESPN report, Goodell was sensitive to the Ravens expressed wishes, consistent with the victim’s herself, to go easy on Rice because this was a one time incident and Rice was extremely cooperative, and played a large and generous part of the NFL’s goodwill in Baltimore. (And again, this discipline by the league, two game or indefinite suspension, is not mandated, but is ultimately a voluntary policy on the part of an employer, even if sensible or even effective public relations on the part of the NFL and seemingly beneficial to society.)

But remember, Goodell also apologized for his initial handling of the matter before the video came out, and instituted a stronger league domestic violence program in response.

Yet Goodell’s second major mistake – the first being the initial two game suspension – being that he wound up altering the original suspension anyway, was not then adhering to this new policy in response to the release of the video. If Goodell could undo the initial two game suspension to change it to an indefinite one in response to the release of the “video evidence,” he could just as easily have instead instituted, or at least be guided, by, the new policy, as a means of finally “getting it right,” just as he stated in his apology just a few weeks earlier.

But again, the Ravens seemingly knee jerk reaction in cutting a player over a video tape that they were ostensibly originally informed about, after the video was made public – as if it provided some remarkably new evidence, and when they had originally asked for leniency on Rice with the league over the same matter – rendered Goodell’s similar knee jerk indefinite suspension mistake more likely.  And may have painted him into a corner a little bit, or at least partially explain his actions.

And both – the Ravens and the NFL through Goodell – are culpable here. But what they are culpable of is poor judgment, and poor handling, perhaps very poor handling, of this matter.

Nothing much worse. And though an interesting, and, in terms of the domestic violence incident involved, disturbing story that also involves the repeated bungling by an image conscious and sometimes over controlling appearing NFL and NFL commissioner – making it all the more newsworthy – it is not a scandal for the ages.

Yet perhaps it is time for Goodell to step down, or the owners to require him to do so. Or at least, please, Roger, read this piece, and don’t dilute the best playoff structure in all of sports; stop heavily favoring the offense and restore some balance, and stop seeming to make it all appear about image and money.

Also, perhaps, while some might disagree, stop being, or at least appearing to be, so morally high handed.

And if you give another press conference about this matter, don’t go on with even more moral high handedness, and vague statements, without addressing and answering the basic fundamental questions – why did you initially apologize if the NFL’s view of what occurred was so much softer than the video showed; and if it was not, why did you respond so severely to the release of the video. Also, acknowledge the specific mistakes made, and don’t try to be policeman for the world. Just hold players accountable as representatives of the NFL fairly – in particular for violent behavior, which has to become seen as universally unacceptable in an advanced society – and without sounding all high and mighty in the process.

It’s bad enough that much of society, sitting now in casual judgment of you, is already sounding the same.  Even if it is, indirectly at least, for a good cause. Which, instead of the NFL, should be getting more direct attention.


Ray and Janay: The Tale of an NFL Domestic Violence and PR Fiasco

Here’s a story: The NFL decides its players will have league ramifications for unrelated criminal behavior. The league then botches its handling of a domestic violence incident due to otherwise exemplary behavior on the part of the player involved; it being a one time incident, and the outspoken claims and support from the victim, And thus, in response, makes the suspension for this player too short.

Given that the NFL suspends its players for more than two games for drug infractions that hurt no one else – or maybe even regardless of this consideration – there is public outcry over a player, with or without a lot of alcohol involved, apparently hitting his fiance hard enough to where she falls and gets temporarily knocked out as result, and yet getting only a two game suspension from the NFL.

Then, in response, the NFL commissioner comes out and openly says he made a mistake with the short suspension, that he “didn’t get it right,” and, that the league has toughened its player domestic violence policy, and instituted guidelines of a six game suspension for a first domestic violence offense, and a ban with the right to petition for reinstatement after a year, for the second.

Then the celebrity news site TMZ gets hold of the video of the actual incident, one that the prosecutor and judge in the County (Atlantic) where the incident took place both saw, but which the public did not, and which the NFL claims it did not. And TMZ makes the video public.

Then, suddenly, in response, the video, at least in popular opinion, seemingly becomes considered to be one of the more sickening things ever. It almost becomes the “in” thing to have this opinion.

And what the video shows is disgusting. But it does not, however, show a serial wife beater, but a guy who engaged in a ridiculous and inexcusable but one time punch to his fiance in a moment of dual drunkenness, and which as a symbol, becomes the thing everyone gets outraged about. It is emotional to see, the player is a star, it is very public, and a public story. And getting upset over domestic violence is a good thing to get upset about.

But much worse happens every day, which goes uncovered, and unattended; or is covered, yet receives very little attention or outcry.

The strange thing in this story however is that the video didn’t add much new information to what was already known. If the NFL thought this player – we’ll call him “Ray” – punched her – We’ll call her “Janay” – and she hit something and got knocked out (which is what the video shows), then the two game suspension was very poor form. And despite the fact that the NFL didn’t have to suspend “Ray” at all, as a statement by the NFL it does seem to trivialize the incident.

But before the video came out the NFL essentially acknowledged this; stating that they made a mistake in issuing such a short suspension. The NFL Commissioner himself, again, had even stated: “I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right.”

Yet after the video surfaced, the NFL implied that Ray himself gave the impression that he didn’t hit Janay very hard; that they were really scuffling back and forth, and that he hit her with an open hand in response, and she fell and was knocked out.

That is still wrong, and in my book never excusable or acceptable conduct. But a two game suspension for such action is not necessarily an outrage, or something that the NFL needed to come out and issue an official public apology, and mea culpa for, particularly given all the other mitigating factors – such as Ray’s outstanding record prior to the incident, Janay’s full support, his immediate counseling and cooperation, and the county court system’s election for Pre-Trial Intervention rather than trial and sentencing.

Yet the NFL, in response to public outcry, did in fact issue this very emphatic and public apology.


The apology suggests that the NFL was merely bowing solely to public pressure despite the fact that (if so) the public did not know all of the facts and also had some of the key facts wrong. Or suggests that the NFL had a hunch or more, before the video was made public, that the video showed something a little different than this “soft” version of actual back and forth scuffling and a softer hit and a fall, and that in this instance it instead showed what the initial public outcry was essentially based on, and which is not as soft of a story. Namely, the player involved flat out hit his then fiance, and she fell and hit her head and went unconscious.

Or it suggests that the NFL, far from being soft, is not at all soft on domestic violence in reality, and issued a major apology for the soft suspension for an act that it thought was much less egregious than it really was.

Or it suggests that the NFL was simply being guided by public opinion and trying to maintain a good public image, and thus, again, bowing to public pressure, even though the facts, as the NFL saw them, didn’t warrant it.

Or it suggests a desire on the part of the NFL or the commissioner to respect Janay the victims seemingly heart felt wishes.

Or some combination of the four.

But even if the video showed what was supposedly essentially known, the video apparently did not show what much of America thought. Or it if did, somehow seeing it made it “real,” where otherwise it was not real. Because when the video was shown, there was much more public outrage.

Yet it is hard to gauge just what contributed most to this outrage, because the NFL, upon the sudden public release of the video, reacted in a very strange way. Remember: the NFL acknowledged a full mea culpa and changed its domestic violence policy toward a fairly strict set of guidelines, and the commissioner himself even acknowledged he made a mistake prior to the celebrity gossip site TMZ’s acquisition and release of the video.

If the softened version of what had happened was the NFL’s true belief – that is, more scuffling, and less of a direct punch – this video showed something a little different; it showed essentially no real scuffling, just her perhaps half halfheartedly trying to slap him, with them both stating some really angry things at each other (which the video version shown to the AP, and which includes audio, suggests), and his strike being perhaps quicker and stronger, with hand apparently closed. But the rest is spot on to what was known.

So here is where our story gets interesting:  Within hours of the release of the video, the team that Ray played for immediately cut him as a player. And the NFL dismissed his earlier two game suspension, and promptly suspended him indefinitely.

These facts, along with the video and news of it itself, ran like wildfire across the nation; making this at one point the top trending story, not just the top trending sports story. People everywhere soon heard (or saw) that a “shocking new” video came out, and that the NFL had suddenly all but banned this player immediately in response.

No matter how logical we otherwise want to be about it, this conveyed the powerful idea that this video consisted of major new information which had not been known, and which information thus “shocked” the NFL itself.  And this in turn made the new video all the more sensationalist, and greatly widened the gap in perception between what this player had supposedly originally done, and what this video, in stark, dark, contrast, clearly showed.

When in fact that gap was not large at all, and, depending on how exactly the NFL “read” the original situation, was somewhat small, to nonexistent. (Remember, it could have been larger, but then the NFL’s major apology for the short suspension makes less sense.)

This ill thought out and seeming immediate “damage control” response of all but ditching all ties with Ray greatly amplified the perception of the video as some sort of sensational alteration or addition to the basic story, when it was not. And it also greatly amplified the perception of disconnect between the way the NFL originally handled this – two game suspension – and what the video showed.

All but forgotten, in an emotional sense anyway, was that the NFL had already acknowledged a mistake on this matter, and that the suspension should have been longer, and that the video is more consistent with the NFL’s earlier apology, than not.

But because of this huge gap between what was perceived to have been the first “story,” and the true video story – though it is unclear, being as the video showed the simple if direct story of him throwing out one fast athletic punch, her falling as a result, and hitting her head, what that “story” thus is – people immediately began to reasonably wonder in hindsight, and big time, why the NFL had not gotten the tape.

Also perhaps somewhat overlooked was that the NFL was not our judicial system; in foresight, the NFL did not necessarily need to see a tape that both prosecutor and judge had seen, and of a player who in the criminal system was put into the Pre-Trial Prevention program, of a situation that it may have thought it had a good handle on between those facts and the statements of the two actors (him and her) involved, and of his exemplary conduct prior to, and since.

At the same time, if the NFL was really interested in just what had happened exactly, they might have tried harder to get the tape, or state to Ray or his attorney “we have the discretion to suspend you for a lot of games under league policy and we need to see a copy of that video before we decide on a suspension.”

That the league did not do so, either shows they wanted to believe this player; or it shows that they already suspected that the conduct was more in line with what the video showed, and not the softer “scuffle” and open hand hit. (If not trained in martial arts an open hand is usually indicative of less intent, and usually accompanies a softer blow as well; if trained it has to be individually assessed.)

If the NFL really believed that it was not a full blow, and that they were scuffling, and both them were really drunk (this last fact seems not in dispute so far anyway), then – given these facts as well as the court’s viewing of the video and Janay’s reasonably expressed wishes as the victim – the NFL should not, even in response to the public outcry, have said it made such a large mistake, since if that was the case it did not. (Other than perhaps in such case failing to be skeptical of the Atlantic Country court system and making sure to get the video to see just what it showed.) Unless the NFL simply went overboard trying to curry good public favor with its apology (and in the process, ultimately not gaining any favor at all), and issued the apology for that reason alone, which seems less likely.

What was actually believed by the commissioner and the relevant parties at the NFL prior to the video being released is hard to pinpoint. But there were certainly some Pollyannaish or hopeful beliefs, such as those by Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. This throws even more intrigue into the story, as Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome – who was part of the “unanimous consent” to immediately cut Ray from the team after the video surfaced – insists that Ray didn’t lie.

Thereby, raising this question for Newsome and the Ravens: “If he didn’t lie, how come you cut him after a video showing him “not lying” surfaced?

This drastic response by the Ravens – to a video tape that showed that Ray “did not lie,” and thus at least more or less simply showed “what had happened and was already known,” and the NFL’s similarly severe and immediate response, together very powerfully made it seem as if the information contained in the video tape was wildly new. It had to have been: Why else would the NFL, which initially gave him such a short suspension over this exact same incident, suddenly all but sever all ties with this player.

But the information contained in the video was largely not new at all. And to the extent a little of what was contained in the video may have been new for the NFL, a response in line with their previously expressed mea culpa would have been consistent. Their response, instead,  was, again, consistent with the idea that the video, in contrast to what the NFL “knew” was explosive.

When it wasn’t.

But what would be the public outcry have been if, on top of the video itself, this incident didn’t get sensationalized by a “shocking” video that takes the one punch by Ray and plays it over and over and over; and, more pointedly, if the NFL had not acted in near immediate and somewhat final response as if Ray had never hit her, and then suddenly a video surfaced showing that, in fact, in direct contradiction, he did.

The public had already been upset over the matter. E.g.: “He hit her, and as result she fell and was knocked unconscious, and (one time blow or not) you only gave a two game suspension? What is wrong with you!”

To which reaction the NFL reasonably responded: “In this matter, a lot; we really screwed up, and we’re even instituting newer tougher domestic violence offense guidelines for all employees, not just players.

But what makes what the NFL did a more publicly available and seemingly outrageous mistake than the way the court system handled the matter – as commissioner Roger Goodell found when he reached out to experts initially – is not that in a big scuffle back and forth this person filled with alcohol happened to slap her and she was teetering from so much alcohol she fell and banged her head.

Instead, what makes it more outrageous seeming is that he punched her hard enough so that she fell and banged her head. Which is exactly what this new tape showed.  And the fact that, drinking heavily or not, she was knocked out as a result. As the part of the tape that was reviewed by the NFL and made public many months ago (showing footage of him trying to move her from the elevator), had already clearly shown.

Yet when the video surfaced the NFL suddenly dropped Ray like a bad dream. Even while the video showed the basic facts as they already existed. Or if it showed major new facts, as per the NFL’s understanding, it made the NFL’s initial suspension under all of the circumstances defensible, and their subsequent major public mea culpa excessive. (At the very least, while it provides more evidence that the NFL botched the handling of this (something not so much into dispute from nearly any quarters) this would be evidence that the NFL takes the issue very seriously, yet the NFL is currently being scapegoated for not doing so.)

And if the facts as the video shows them to be weren’t already known – at least in terms of the NFL’s way of looking at it – this was a good opportunity for the NFL to be able to get around their initial weak two game suspension, clarify what the NFL had originally thought, and clarify that this video provided enough new evidence that consistent with the NFLPA – NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) they could suspend this player consistent with the new domestic violence guidelines.

But in acting in a morally outraged fashion – which was also bad public relations, since it was the NFL itself which had initially treated this as if it was a much smaller deal – the NFL, and the Ravens, at least in part, helped create the very same moral outrage that is calling for Goodell’s job as commissioner now.

And by acting in this way, the NFL also created a lot of hoopla, public outcry, and deep skepticism over why the NFL had not seen the video.

In other words, if the video is that big a deal that the NFL, apology in the interim or not, went from giving a two game suspension to all but banishing Ray from the league (by both the NFL and his now former team) within hours of it surfacing – though of course in foresight it could not have known this – why didn’t the NFL look at it before?

The NFL, by its reaction, either created or helped to intensify the somewhat erroneous impression that it had erred terribly or even engaged in some sort of wrong doing by not somehow getting the videotape instead of relying upon the court system’s findings, Ray and Janay’s statements, Janay the victim’s strongly expressed wishes, and Ray’s prior excellent record in the matter.

The NFL, more consistently with the actual facts, and with respect to the video, could have stated: “Those are essentially the facts as we know them, but the video does show a bit more aggression and directness. And as we initially stated, we initially erred in this matter in handing out only a two game suspension. But this extra aggression provides materially new evidence to set aside our initial suspension term under the CBA, and instead now be guided by the new policy guidelines we have established, which suggests a 6 game suspension for the first time offense.” While it would not have been perfect – the NFL had botched this from the start after all – it would not have made it considerably worse, as the response that they did choose, instead very likely did.

The rationale for moving to the new policy and six game suspension is that there was reason in hindsight to have seen the video; the NFL had acknowledged the mistake and couldn’t really change what they had done under the CBA; but now that the video  had surfaced showing new evidence, the NFL could arguably do so. And more importantly, the NFL could do so without adding to the hysteria by acting morally outraged and hysterical themselves, and only making the NFL look far, far worse in the process, for then “not having gotten this tape in the first place” if in fact it is that outrageously different that the NFL had to suddenly react this powerfully and quickly upon seeing it, as if it was all new information.

What has been created by all of this is a scandal of major proportions. One that, while the incident between Ray and his then fiance is despicable, as are all such incidents – and which, among many far worse incidents and even patterns, are all too common – really may not be that scandalous.

And as a result, the outrage toward the NFL is palpable.

On Friday Morning, Philadelphia Eagles Center Jason Kelce appeared on a morning radio talk show, and stated:

If they would have just came out and said, ‘you know what we had a wrong—we made a wrong decision, we should have suspended him for longer, this is something that we mishandled,’ I would have had a lot more respect for the NFL than what they’re doing now, which seems like they are just backtracking and trying to save face in front of the fans and it’s clear as day, I think to me, they’re lying and misleading people.”

That is what the NFL did – that is, say that that they were wrong. Then, after the video came out – which is apparently when Kelce is thus talking about – the NFL did not do this: instead, the NFL acted near hysterically, and fueled, rather than mitigated, further outrage over the video, by, ironically, taking an even stronger, but seemingly knee jerk, response to it; and by doing so making the video the end all be all of the story, rather than the mild addition or clarification to the story that it really was.

Thus causing public outrage to grow more.

Now a clever but in some ways sensationalist and misleading Cover Girl “Put Your Game Face On” image has circulated the country. Funny and apt if it is part metaphor for the black eye that the NFL has given itself, not quite so funny and perhaps even misleading if it is claiming that the NFL holds its players to certain standards but yet is largely indifferent to domestic violence, or that the problem of domestic violence is rampant in the NFL as compared with the rest of society.

Only adding even further to the mess, a copy of the video, which is in fact security camera footage from inside the elevator, was also claimed to have been delivered to the NFL by an anonymous law enforcement official months earlier. The anonymous source also played a recording for the members of the Associated Press of a female voice, reportedly from an NFL office number, leaving a voice mail confirming receipt and viewing of the video on her part; although there are not a lot of details available, and apparently the date of the voice mail itself pre-dates the given date of the video delivery by a couple of months. (Though that could just be a clerical mistake.)  The commissioner claims he never saw it or was made aware of it.

To top it all off, the NFL has also initiated an investigation to be overseen by two of its owners, John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and to be conducted by a former head of the FBI, Robert Mueller.

Mueller may be competent, but it’s not clear that a former director of the FBI is needed here to simply uncover if any of the key players – Goodell or his main advisers – was made aware of a recording allegedly sent to the NFL’s offices. Or of how the NFL otherwise handled the matter.

An “investigation” often creates the patina of wrong doing, as opposed to here, a group of 32 team owners who are rightly concerned with how this was handled and over what perhaps happened to that recording (if it is real) and who is responsible, and who simply want to find out what happened; to both correct errors and improve how things are handled, and, tell the public.

On top of this, electing to have a former “Director of the FBI” head this investigation, which makes a solid sounding headline that, in our world of short sound bite twitter type feeds, often comprises the majority of the story, and which was repeated millions of times on article links, twitter feeds and article headlines, was yet another mistake by the NFL. Here’s why.

So as Al Capone the notorious gangster – upon whom prosecutors could never pin anything related to his most nefarious activities – was finally convicted for an otherwise less enforced but technically legitimate law against tax evasions, Roger Goodell, albeit by a far more metaphoric, highly subjective, and exaggerated comparison, may – if public opinion stays the same and public opinion is to have its way – be ousted over this incident.

Goodell, who very subjectively speaking, and as a matter of pure opinion, has been an over-zealous commissioner who has been pushing hard to dilute the league’s playoffs with even more teams (as if 12 out of 32, well more than a third, aren’t enough) and also lose most of the meaning of playoff byes and largely undermine the most the most brilliant playoff structure in all of professional sports; who constantly seems to support rule changes that favor the offense over the defense (great for many fans, not as great for those who like to see a good balance between offense and defense, who like to see each score stay more relevant, who like to see good defense and the defense play as large of a role as the offense, or who like good football game strategy beyond simple Xs and Os and teams repeatedly marching up and down the field hardly impeded by defensive backs practically not allowed to breathe heavy on wide receivers): and who, ironically, often rules with a heavy moral hand (just not heavy enough, ironically, this past summer for a simple domestic violence case); and, as many NFL players are apt to suggest, just a very heavy hand in general.

Based upon the facts as they exist so far, however, much as in my own biased and perhaps unfair personal opinion I would like to see a new commissioner (though I am starting to re think that upon seeing one of the names that has been far more widely mentioned than any other), and as unpopular as it is to suggest right now, it is not at all clear that the current or even likely facts of this incident warrant the dismissal of Goodell.

He and the NFL botched this initially. But they ultimately gave the involved player a longer suspension than is really warranted under the new, even stronger domestic violence policy; and all the outrage from the visuals of the video aside, gave him a suspension that is also probably longer than is really warranted for – again, not a defendant in our court system, but an NFL player – for a one time first time offense which, fast as it was, consisted of one hit, with his fiance and now wife pleading to let him play, with an exemplary record and complete contrition and accountability afterward.

What Goodell and the NFL have repeatedly botched here is something the NFL has been very good at: The public relations aspect. This has made the entire matter look worse than it is. And with the immediate indefinite suspension of Ray to “make up for” the initial tepid handling, by some views exhibited that same moral high handedness; rather than a more measured consistent approach that wouldn’t have served to falsely widen the perception gap between what actually existed or was “known,” pre and post the surfacing of that video, suggested above.

As did perhaps the Baltimore Ravens as well. I am a fan of owner Steve Bisciotti. (And Ozzie Newsome, and their head coach, John Harbaugh.) But to jump from thinking a two game suspension is acceptable, to outright cutting the player, while the league all but simultaneously suspends him indefinitely, on the facts as they generally seem to have existed before and after the video surfaced, is a bit much. Maybe the suspension was to “buy time.” But another way to buy time is to not respond in a few hours to something that either didn’t add much, and thus didn’t provide much to respond to, or was a major revelation on top of an already complex situation.

The new NFL domestic violence policy calls for six games for a first time offense, which this incident represents. It is also a standard case. On the very negative side, it involved a very hard blow. But on the mitigating side, and not to diminish that first very disturbing fact, it was one punch; they were both very drunk; she does fully support him, and perhaps more importantly as the victim and with no apparent evidence of past abuse deserves some benefit of the doubt here; and his record before and after the incident was strong.

And unless the argument is that “this” incident of domestic violence warrants something higher than the current policy guideline – which would call into question the policy itself since many cases are worse- it seems that by the NFL’s initial mishandling, Ray (so far) wound up getting a far more egregious suspension than he ever would have under the new stronger domestic violence policy. And it seems everyone loses here. The Ravens (presumably, if they otherwise did not want to release him), the public, the fans, the NFL, and Ray and Janay.

If it turns out Goodell was made aware of the tape and has lied about it (it’s going out on a limb to make predictions, but I predict that is not the case, and it would be quite a surprise if it is),  then of course, although it is the owners call, he should be let go because he won’t be trusted as commissioner any more by the public, by the players, or by the owners.

And that is where out story will end. If not, it will end where it does – or at least this part of it – upon the finding of the investigation, and the outcome of the appeal that Ray is allegedly planning to contest the league’s indefinite suspension of him.

Ray’s been made into a bit of a pariah, but he should appeal. His suspension should have been six games. While there is a disturbing pattern of “battered wife” syndrome as well as abuse victim sometimes enabling their abusers by defending them or not really acknowledging their actions, to leap to that conclusion in this case is premature, and at this point apparently not supportable.

While his now wife’s support of him may be questionable in light of even that one time incident of behavior, the fact that it was a one time incident and that Ray has been granted Pre-Trial Intervention by the courts, is undergoing counseling, and that she has known him and been friends with him since high school, means that her wishes in this matter have to be respected and taken into consideration as well. That Goodell did this initially is at least supportable. Unless of course the league thought he hit her hard enough to clearly knock her down and hit something and get knocked out (just what the video shows) in which case the 6 game suspension is clearly appropriate.

And had the league just done this, even after the video came out – and clearly acknowledged its mistakes and revealed what extra information the video added, and suggested that in hindsight it should have made the suspension decision conditional upon getting a copy of the video (as well as explaining why it didn’t and acknowledging any mistakes there), the league probably wouldn’t have quite this black of an eye: