“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…” (Hosea 4:6)
Is our culture so bent on manufactured entertainment that we refuse to effectively care even as it destroys us?
The outcry is hot and heavy against Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens. Once a top-tier running back for the NFL organization, Rice had his contract terminated indefinitely after a video surfaced publicly, showing him committing blatant physical violence against his then-fiancée. Obvious evidence, case closed.
The outcry doesn’t stop with the current punishment. The availability of the video prior to the first disciplinary action against Rice, a suspension for a simple two games, suggests that the NFL either lied about asking for all the evidence, or sat on it hoping they could sweep the problem away like they had for several years with other players. The outcry also seems to spring from the woman’s ability to stay in a relationship with someone abusive, and from Rice apologizing first not to his wife but to his coach.
These protests are yet weak.
One real protest would be about a culture that continues to undergird violence with public attention. Any parent of a toddler learns eventually that the child will only act out what they observe, and what acquires attention. Most of our people are the working poor, yet we continue to pour money into a sport that literally thrives on contact. Say what we will about adjusted rules, added protection to players, and personal responsibility: this is not a culture of obvious grace and peace. These players are not only trained day in and day out to engage in hitting other people, but are conditioned to expect their livelihood from it. Many of these players would have (and will have) absolutely nothing to earn a living from after their football careers are over. Unless we expect players to starve themselves to death, we need to acknowledge that they will do whatever is technically legal (not necessarily ethical) to provide for others. Point blank: if we don’t like players getting into criminal activity, we need to stop surrounding them with aggressive behavior. It’s not yet worth starting on the recent upsurge in UFC fighting (the founder in a local newscast once joked about asking himself, “Is this even legal?”…and now he makes millions from its questionable ethics), but the results will soon be the same from that, if not more so, and the UFC’s popularity only supports the reality of the culture’s continued acclimation to violence. Do we question this? Not more than we play the fool and pretend there are no consequences.
Another real protest would be the pervading ignorance surrounding abuse. One might rightfully argue that women are to be treated as precious, and such would be correct, though women are also not the only ones to suffer abuse. Relationships, if unhealthy, will always center around what we counselor-types will call a “power-grab.” This means, simply, that one partner will seize control as a means of perpetuating the relationship, usually out of a significant source of insecurity; this means, by definition, that another will assume the submissive role, or play the dominant role in a more exaggerated fashion given the chance. This means only one of two things; either the relationship will continue in a cycle of violence, or it will assume a psychological condition known as co-dependence, or in these cases more extremely known as Stockholm Syndrome. Stockholm Syndrome is the condition in which one person emotionally attaches to their abuser simply to keep from being abused more, and in fact sees their abuser as the most important, necessary facet of their own dehumanized existence. People who blame Ray Rice’s wife, or more poignantly do ANYTHING other than encourage a stop to the relationship so the two have even the remotest chance to be healthy, seem not to understand the gravity, addictive nature and automation of this kind of psychological state. Once again, ignorance is the social drug of choice.
Perhaps the issue with the most wide-ranging social consequences is a dynamic that has seemed to overtake the United States: that of corporate elitism. Oh, yes. There is no more troubling aspect of our society except that of exempting oneself from the law. For those readers wanting Christian reference, Paul’s exhortation to obey the governing authorities in seeking the good of the society is extensive in Romans 13. Yet in dealing with criminal offenses by players in the most hushed manner, what the NFL seems to be implying is the idea that as a for-profit corporation, they can not only have their own code of conduct exempting themselves from American justice, but they have the right to exercise their own set of “laws” instead, and indeed have a right to demand evidence from the authorities to discipline players like Rice, as if they are the authorities and not the civilians, when they have no role in administrating civil justice. The relevant NFL leadership knew Rice had committed domestic assault before this video became public; they suspended Rice for two games, certainly not a punishment anywhere near the equivalent of his criminal punishment in civil society, and the NFL even defended the decision at its top-most echelon. What the NFL truly believes is that instead of upholding the American system of justice, as a corporation (albeit American) it would rather see profit in the short-term by allowing criminals to play as long as the public remains ignorant than profit in the long-term by upholding honor and character. Almighty money still doesn’t care about people; it doesn’t care about Rice being acculturated to violence; it doesn’t care about his wife being made a slave to fear; it doesn’t care about upholding justice and law; it cares about how willing you are to spend it. Money, bluntly, is ignorant; by its association with us, we become ignorant ourselves.
And it would seem the NFL cares more about damage to its wallet than to its own country’s citizens.
While not the most exacting protest, one might argue that a final one to hold would be the culture’s ability not to speak out against domestic or other form of criminal violence in professional sports, but its unwillingness to take substantial action in support of those words. Words by themselves are hollow, folks. And millions of people are going to do one of a number of things: ignore the cases of Ray Rice, Ray McDonald, Aldon Smith, and countless other players now spanning decades; pay enough attention to act like they care by saying something about it but still enjoying every minute of every player that hasn’t yet become so criminal they can no longer play; or take substantive financial, social or other legal action until the NFL knows it’s not above the law and this behavior stops well in advance of another committed crime.
Betting on the third option would lose a lot of money, whether or not we realize it.