Is the Shield impenetrable?
Former linebacker Terry Crews called the NFL a cult, and as tempted as I am to apply that description to this inexplicable fascination with the annual draft, I’ll skip that part and move on to what Crews was referring to, as well as the cringe-worthy “apology” that Ray Rice offered on Friday.
The wrinkles from all the bro hugs had barely been pressed out of Roger Goodell’s suit when a suit of a vastly different stripe swaddled the commissioner in class-action goodness on Tuesday.
Eight former players, Jim McMahon, Richard Dent, former Giant Ron Stone, Jeremy Newberry, Roy Green, J.D. Hill, Keith Van Horne and Ron Pritchard, filed the suit on behalf of 500 former players claiming that the NFL had cultivated a routine of painkiller use while keeping the players in the dark about what they were taking and what the short-term side effects and permanent debilitation could be.
This comes on the heels of the $765 million pay-off to settle the head-injury lawsuit last August.
The hits kept coming on Friday afternoon, on a much less grandiose scale, when Rice held a press conference to apologize to everybody under the sun, but somehow neglected to include his wife, Janay Palmer, on that list even though she was sitting right next to him.
The Baltimore Ravens running back got in a fight with her at the Revel Resorts casino in Atlantic City in February and faces charges of simple assault by the city police that led to a complaint to the Atantic County prosecutor.
Rice is being further investigated for “bodily injury to J. Palmer, specifically by striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious …” according to the summons, which was posted online by the Baltimore CBS affiliate.
Innocent until proven guilty, yes, of course, but some man-on-the-street reaction gathered from Ravens fans by the Baltimore Sun leads one to believe that an NFL star gets plenty of leeway in the court of public opinion, even for allegedly beating his then-girlfriend (soon-to-be wife) senseless.
Security footage at Revel from that night posted by TMZ Sports shows Rice dragging a woman out of an elevator and leaving her lying motionless and face-down on the floor.
It ain’t draft week anymore.
And yet, the NFL has shown itself to be remarkably immune to these types of stories and developments.
The league was projected to gobble up over $9 billion in revenue last season, and Goodell hasn’t given any indication that he’s backing off a goal established in 2010 of $25 billion by the year 2027.
Since then, Aaron Hernandez, Richie Incognito, the concussion settlement … and this latest stuff. Ray Lewis is a TV star.
The painkiller abuse described in this week’s class action suit is part of an institutional cycle the players say they were forced to accept as a means of getting on the field every Sunday.
Dent told the Chicago Tribune that NFL players are the equivalent of livestock if something isn’t done to change this exploitative culture.
Crews, who played for four NFL teams before gaining greater fame as an actor, described the NFL as a cult during an interview about the drug suit with Sports Illustrated’s daily live radio program.
“There is this thing where the team kind of looks at [itself] as your father,” Crews told SI Now. “And it’s kind of weird, because it’s like, ‘You’d do this for the team, right?’
“It’s really like a cult. I’m going to say it. The NFL is a cult, because you’ve been looking at this motto and this logo for your whole life and you believe in it and you’re like ‘They wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. They never would.’ And, uh, oh, maybe they would.”
It’s perhaps telling that the first person the occasionally choked-up Rice apologized to on Friday was Steve Bisciotti, the Ravens’ majority owner, followed by general manager Ozzie Newsome and “Coach [John] Harbaugh.”
He also worked around to “my fans”, “the kids” and the “sponsors, who [now] have acted as not being in partnership with me.”
Ray Rice, by all accounts, has been a model citizen and a willing community outreach member of the Ravens, but this whole apology scene was disturbing, nauseating and depressing.
A suspension by Goodell, probably along the lines of what Ben Roethlisberger got, is assured, but it won’t seem like nearly enough. The charges against him could be expunged if he completes a diversion program he started this week.
After Rice was done clumsily portraying himself as the victim for six minutes, his wife actually said, “I do deeply regret the role that I played in the incident,” the final, chilling masterstroke on victim reversal.
It’s a little scary to see how easily adversity and negative images deflect off the NFL brand.
When Goodell talks about “protecting the shield”, he assures us that he’s referring to the players and the integrity of the league.
I need an aspirin.