Who Knew What And When?

So we have another act in the tragedy that is Ray Rice. I use tragedy because his story might well have been written by Sophocles. He rose to the height of his profession, including a Super Bowl ring. Now, because of his wrath and hubris he has become an outcast.

Initially, his penalty for his actions were laughable. A two-game suspension was simply not enough, but I actually don’t know if Roger Goodell had any right answers with the information that I think he had when he made the decision.

Understand that there were a variety of pressures forcing Goodell to make a decision in the spring. He had to do something when he did rather than waiting for more information.

Understand also that Goodell, according to the New Jersey state prosecutor did not have access to the video inside the elevator. TMZ is trying to prove that he did, but according to New Jersey law if he did Goodell was breaking the law himself.

Understand finally that both Janay and Ray Rice were initially charged with assaulting each other. Yes, Janay’s charge was later dropped and Ray’s was later increased, but up to the release of the video there was always some questions about what actually happened.

Then the legal penalty came down and it was light.

To recap. A situation with lots of questions. A slight legal penalty. No countervailing evidence available at the time.

And let’s not forget that prior to this Ray Rice had had no missteps that we know of. He had shown up to work, worked hard, produced, and was well liked by his co-workers.

Every single one of us, when faced with a situation involving someone we know and like, will tend to think the best of our friend. Based on the evidence available at the time, I’m sure that is what was going through the minds all of the people in the Ravens organization and in the NFL.

We, of course, view this from a more distant lens, but we have to recognize that we probably would have said the same things if we had been in the position of the Ravens management and players back then.

There were other factors as well. Had Goodell placed a more significant penalty upon Rice, such as the six games he has promised to assess on first offenders in the future, he might very well have faced a union, the NFLPA, ready to defend its player.

We can all agree that two games is too little. Four games would have earned him criticism that it was either too little or too much. Six games would have put him in conflict with the union. More games and it would have been outright war with the union. Trust me, the presence of the union influenced Goodell’s initial decision downwards.

I’m not a Roger Goodell fan at all, but I have to say I think he was in a no-win situation at the time.

In many ways, the two-game suspension was the *best* possible choice by Goodell. The ensuing criticism and outcry have made everyone, especially the union, more aware of the issue.

Without that light penalty, and the criticism, the NFLPA would have already gotten a restraining order to prevent the Ravens from releasing Rice and the NFL from suspending him indefinitely. I guarantee it given the NFLPA’s history.

Now there are other questions. First, why was the initial legal penalty so light?

I’ve seen people criticize this situation as an example where a professional athlete got off lightly until the end. However, remember that he was a first time offender. Also, Janay had declined to press charges. This was not an easy case to win, and if the prosecutor had lost then Ray Rice would have, indeed, completely gotten away with it. Jury trials are always iffy.

So this was a case of doing what they could, rather than tilt at an uncertain windmill. Prosecutors do this all of the time.

Second, asking when Goodell actually saw the video is a legitimate question. Right now, with the state of New Jersey corroborating his claim, I have no choice to believe the timeline that he has put forth.

Could this be a conspiracy? Sure. But it’s very difficult to conceal a conspiracy that includes all of the people involved in New Jersey and all of the people involved in the NFL side. If there is a conspiracy to hide the fact that Goodell had seen the video prior to yesterday, then TMZ or someone else will find that out.

But right now, it seems much more likely that the NFL did not know. That the Ravens did not know. That the decision Goodell made in the spring was based on evidence not including the video.

There are many reasons to criticize Goodell. I don’t know that this is one of them.

In fact, the one person in all of this that we can and should criticize is Ray Rice himself. What I saw was disgusting, and I’m not willing to watch all of the video. So, please understand that none of this post is a defense of Rice’s actions, merely a commentary on the reality of the position that people were in.

As a side note, I think I’m going to discuss the position of athletes in our society and point out some interesting inconsistencies in how we treat them. But that’s a long blog post in it’s own right.

Now, let’s take a quick glance at the impact of the Ravens release of Rice.

One thing most of you may not know is the structure of player salaries in the NFL. There is no shame in that, as it is insanely complicated because of the salary cap and ways teams try to manipulate that cap.

Why do I bring this up? Well, if any of you out there wish to criticize the Ravens and their handling of this situation I want you to realize that they incurred a severe penalty by cutting Ray Rice.

Ray Rice will count $4.75million against their $133million salary cap in 2014. In other words they have 3.6% less money to spend on players than every other team in 2014. This may not sound like much but it is huge in a league dominated by parity. In 2015, it will be worse, probably something like 7%.

Cap space is more valuable than money to most NFL teams. Nearly every owner would toss $14million away if it would help the team, and while the Ravens will likely go after some of that bonus money, that money is essentially irrelevant to them.

But cap space matters. A cap hit is a direct hit on the ability of a team to put the best players it could out on the field.

That $14million cap hit is huge and could quite easily cost the Ravens a playoff berth.

In fact, one could make the case that a lesser cap hit did just that to the Dallas Cowboys. In 2012 and 2013, the NFL assessed a $5million per year cap penalty  for following the existing rules and not colluding with the other owners. It is entirely possible that this penalty cost the Cowboys two playoff berths, and almost certainly cost them one.

Cap space is everything in the NFL.

So if you’re mad that the Ravens stood up for their friend prior to the release of the video, then you should understand that they have hurt their production on the field and hence their income by releasing him based on the new evidence.

They absolutely made the right decision, of course, but they should be recognized for the cost they paid.

Again, there is a bad guy in all of this and that is Ray Rice. Outside of him are a bunch of people trying to navigate the shoals of this situation as best they can while suffering the consequences of his actions.

I’m glad I’m not one of them.


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