Roger Goodell, the NFL, and the Outrage-Industrial Complex

Don’t worry, I’m not defending Roger Goodell or Ray Rice by any stretch of the imagination.

What Ray Rice did is indefensible. He had to go. Roger Goodell, well, he’s doing what Roger Goodell and the NFL have been doing for a long time: the least amount of change that will pass as acceptable to a fickle public that routinely makes demands of well-entrenched institutions and then forgets about them.

Right about now is where I want to reiterate that I’m not defending Roger Goodell. By all accounts, the guy is a piece of shit, and something of a moron from more than one standpoint (not just PR). I’ll certainly shed no tears for the man if he steps down, free then to live out the rest of his days trying to spend the $44 million he made last year. Rough future ahead of that guy.

The thing is, I’ve known this about Roger Goodell for a long time. And you’ve known it. Hell, everybody who pays any sort of attention to football and organized sports at all has probably known that he was a terrible person for years and years, and even somebody with no particular affinity for football has probably heard one or two friends bitch about it enough that they get the general picture.

It’s normal–commendable, even–that the public is outraged over Ray Rice punching his girlfriend in the face and knocking her unconscious. Any man hitting any woman should be met with outrage. But we knew, all of us, that Ray rice had beaten his wife a long time ago. We knew. Don’t pretend like we didn’t. We all knew. And we all knew that Roger Goodell was going to let it go with a slap on the wrist and wash his hands of it and pass the buck to the Ravens organization (who ultimately did the right thing, I suppose, but they didn’t exactly come out of this smelling like roses either), or the US justice system, or anybody else who might take some of the stink off the commissioner of a league that has existed for quite a while now as the new plantation system in America.

Once again, for posterity, I am not defending or excusing or hand-waving any actions undertaken by any NFL player, but the league has been an exploitation factory (acting in conjunction with the NCAA) for a long time. It’s not secret that a majority of the league’s players are men of color, that a disproportionate number of NFL hopefuls flame out before even being considered by a professional team, and that even those who do end up having successful careers in the league often find themselves broke, skill-less, jobless, and with the body of a 78-year-old coal miner in their 30s. Again, we have known this. It is known.

Still, we dutifully rend our clothes and gnash our teeth when the league displays yet another despicable and tacit approval of horrific violence. Still, we are shocked, shocked to find that other players who have terrorized their spouses or girlfriends went on to play in week 1. Still, we are outraged. Time and again. Yet still, we let it slide. Still, we watch.

I don’t excuse myself from any of this. Just this past Sunday I attended a New York Giants game (though the ticket was paid for by somebody else), and I purchased concessions, and I followed the scores of other games with my Fantasy app. I’ve raised my eyebrow at story after story after story about players with guns, players murdering people, players killing themselves, players raping, assaulting, etc, etc, etc, and I’ve hand-waved it all. I suppose that makes me either a massive hypocrite, a terrible person, or possibly both. I could say something here about not looking to these guys for tips on how to live my life, only wanting them to play football, and that their personal lives are none of my business. That might be true (if not a little shortsighted), but it is the business of the league that pays their massive salaries. And time and again, that league, under the reign of Roger Goodell, has given players tacit approval to behave in almost any manner they wish, both on and off the field.

I’m not outraged, though. I’m not surprised. I’m disgusted at the behavior exhibited by Ray Rice, I weirdly expected something close to what (allegedly) happened with Goodell and the elevator tape, but I’m not outraged. Outrage implies that a brazen contempt for civilized standards has taken place, and that’s not what has happened here. This sort of behavior and the associated dodging are now so associated with the NFL that it’s become patently absurd to pretend that we’re outraged.

Furthermore, why are we outraged about Ray Rice beating his girlfriend after the tape surfaced? Are we so bereft of brain cells and human decency that we needed TMZ, an exploitation farm if ever there was one, to be the voice of moral authority? Did we really lack the critical reasoning skills necessary to know that a grown man, and a fiercely powerful professional athlete at that, beating his girlfriend was stomach-churning? I don’t feel outraged, I feel ashamed.

What’s done is done, and after immense pressure and being caught in the latest in a long series of lies and evasive maneuvers, Goodell has been cornered into (sort of, kind of) doing the right thing. The Ravens have cut Rice and he’s been suspended indefinitely by the league. Any talk about Goodell needing to step down is warranted and perhaps commendable, but let’s not forget to temper our outrage, the only feelings that seem to matter in the world of social media anymore, with an appropriate amount of shame.