Of all the appalling aspects and angles to the Ray Rice atrocity, one element stands out that is as chilling, or more, than the act of punching his then-fiancee.
After his nasty blow sends Janay Palmer crashing into a metal railing on the side of the elevator, then crumpling to the floor, Rice stands over her in a posture suggesting triumph and, certainly, remorselessness.
Then he mechanically hoists her up and dumps her on the floor outside the elevator and casually struts about, exuding a message of “nothing to see here” while all around him wanted to believe the same.
It was one thing, and a barbaric thing, for Rice to carry himself that way after what can be seen on the video footage acquired and released earlier this week by TMZ.
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It was another for the NFL to more or less plead see-little-evil in the months since the incident.
After all, the NFL had witnessed long ago the disturbing aftermath in the footage documenting Rice lugging Palmer off the elevator in a heap.
It was evident what had happened without seeing the act itself.
But the NFL stood whistling at the intersection of willful ignorance and plausible deniability on the matter of Rice.
The two-game initial suspension never was appropriate, a trifling wrist-slap that said only “guess we’ve got to do something” instead of “this won’t be tolerated.”
But now the deniability is getting more implausible by the day even as the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens finally were compelled to take proper action by respectively suspending him indefinitely and terminating his contract.
The NFL’s tin-eared, tunnel-visioned, head-in-the-ground stance was illuminated by the release of the video.
And that was further exposed on Wednesday in a report by The Associated Press quoting an anonymous law enforcement official as saying he had sent the video to an NFL executive months ago.
The official played the AP a 12-second voice mail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming the video had arrived.
On the message, a female expresses thanks and says, “You’re right. It’s terrible.”
Through a spokesman, the NFL said it was “not aware of anyone in our office who saw or possessed the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it.”
Those words at best ring hollow now.
In its quest to “protect the shield,” as commissioner Roger Goodell likes to say about the integrity of the league, it has failed to offer a shield for women from its stars.
The league can’t protect women from domestic abuse, of course.
But at least it can make it clear that playing in the league is a privilege, not a right, and that no one is above that.
It’s happening now, and that’s a good and constructive thing, but why wasn’t more done sooner?
There is no immediate way to know who received that video and how far it made it up the chain of command and if Goodell did or did not see it before Monday.
Still, it seems pathetic now to hear Goodell telling CBS, “We assumed there was a video. We asked for video. But we were never granted that opportunity.”
The NFL’s tentacles, though, can reach about anywhere. And there now seems evidence that it didn’t even have to reach out for it.
There is a lot of talk now about whether Goodell should lose his job over this, and it’s a worthy discussion.
Not just because of the lingering question of what did he know and when did he know it, but also because of what he had to know and didn’t manage properly until he was forced to.
Goodell serves at the pleasure of NFL owners, but only a few have spoken (John Mara of the New York Giants and Bob Kraft of the New England Patriots) about it and defended him.
The Star’s attempts to speak with Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt have been unsuccessful.
A lot remains unclear about the handling of this, but a lot also couldn’t be more clear.
The NFL, and its leaders, have to earn back their credibility by taking more vigorous, zero-tolerance stances on these matters in the future.
The mandatory six-game suspension for domestic incidents it instituted in August was a good start, one that included Goodell writing to owners, “I didn’t get it right.”
The new video only makes the point more evident.