You don’t need to be a fan of professional football or even a resident of Baltimore to know that the news coming out of the home team has been far from good as of late.
The moves Monday by the Baltimore Ravens to release star running back Ray Rice and by the National Football League to suspend him indefinitely after a more complete video surfaced of the Atlantic City, N.J., altercation in which he knocked his future wife unconscious effectively bars the athlete, who won the NFL Play of the Year Award in 2012, from the sport throughout North America. But the punishment did little to quell the voices of sports fans and domestic violence advocates who pointed out that the only thing that changed since Rice’s earlier punishment — a two-game NFL suspension — and the enactment of a new domestic violence policy by the league was that the public can now view all the gory details online.
Various groups have accused both the team and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell of cynicism and hypocrisy, and Baltimore Sun columnist Susan Reiner went so far Tuesday as to suggest that Rice’s termination “has absolutely nothing to do with domestic abuse.” And yet others have applauded the swift suspension and the message it sends to would-be abusers: that domestic violence should not and will not be tolerated.
Without deciding whether or not Rice — who is reportedly in court-ordered counselling and did express regret — got what he deserved or whether or not the league and the Ravens did the right thing in sending a star player packing, it is possible to glean another altogether different message from the affair: While it’s always preferable to get it right the first time, misguided decisions of the past should not prevent corrective actions in the future.
If the NFL truly believed that it didn’t go far enough several weeks ago, then it was right to expand its suspension.
Of course, the decision itself has very little to do with the Jewish community, but it does say something about the responsibility of organizations to police the conduct of its members. No less than the integrity of the organization and the example it sets for the outside world is at stake.
And if a sports league has a responsibility to enforce proper behavior among its players, then other organizations — universities, for instance — have a responsibility to make sure that those who speak in their name or under their auspices do so in keeping with the values they represent.
You’ll read in this week’s JT about the efforts of Jewish groups to empower local college students with the tools and messages necessary to be effective champions of Israel’s cause. It’s no secret that the world of academia is a hostile one for the Jewish state and its defenders, but recent events, including the assault of a pro-Israel student at Temple University in Philadelphia, have emphasized just how isolated the pro-Israel camp feels at some colleges.
Universities must always champion free speech, but where those who use the First Amendment as a shield with which to intimidate and stifle the speech of others, administrators must take bold steps — previous decisions notwithstanding — to bring professors and students back to the table of respectful debate.