So here's the thing. A football player has an argument with his fiancée in a hotel foyer. They get into the lift together, still arguing, and when they get out she's unconscious, and he's trying to drag her across the floor.
His club sees the video evidence of this, and over the summer they take action, finding him guilty of a heinous act of domestic violence. They ban the player, who's on a $40m contract, for two games and fine him $550,000.
The club must have hoped that would close the case, because he's a very good player and integral to the team's chances of success. This is the brutal sport of American football we're talking about, in which, according to its greatest exponent, Vince Lombardi, “winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.” I also once heard a famous coach, on being questioned about one of his player's antics, stop the inquisition to say: “Hey guys, this is not a game for well-adjusted individuals.”
We certainly know this to be true now, and that applies to those who wear the helmets and some of those who don't. This week a video emerged on the TMZ celebrity “news” website, a security camera recording exactly what happened in the lift.
God knows how many people around the world have now seen the sickening film of Ray Rice, the running back of the Baltimore Ravens, punch his soon-to-be-wife in the face with such force that she hit her head on a metal handrail and fell unconscious. Cue a national outcry, and even an intervention from the President.
Rice has since been sacked by the Baltimore Ravens, and banned indefinitely by American football's governing body, the NFL. The Ravens have positioned themselves as taking a highly principled stand, which raises an interesting question. It's fair enough to pose as moral arbiter, but what did they think had happened in the lift when they banned him for only two games? That she had fainted? In which case, why was he fined and banned? Or did they believe that no video evidence would emerge that would require them to take such drastic action, thereby leaving Rice available to play his full part in the Ravens' season?
I always feel queasy when sporting organisations get involved in questions of personal morality, because you can be sure that hypocrisy and double standards are not very far away. It's entirely right that a sport which appeals to a very broad demographic and seeks to attract sponsorship money should have no truck whatsoever with a man who's been revealed to the world as a wife-beater.
But what would have happened had TMZ not unearthed, and then released, the security video? Rice would still be a wife-beater. His club would know he was a wife-beater. And so, most probably, would the wider sporting community, and, significantly, the sport's governing body.
Yet Rice would have been pulling on the No 27 jersey for the Baltimore Ravens against the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend. You don't have to be a cynic to believe that, in the eyes of his sport, Rice's crime was not to punch his fiancée senseless, but to get caught.Reuse content