It's over, NFL

I'm imagining all the things I will do with my Sundays this fall.

I can find arts festivities, and attend them with my child. I can make it to the beach more often. I can read more. I can go for longer walks. I can check out those remaining South Florida tourist attractions I haven't been to yet. I can attend church a bit more regularly.

I'm becoming convinced that I won't watch the NFL.

My life-long love affair with pro football has been on the rocks for a while. I suppose the first blow came when I spent a season covering the Washington Redskins, which was great from a career standpoint but not as awesome for the little girl who grew up rooting for the Hogs and Riggins and still-GOAT Art Monk. Seeing the team from the inside, as an organization (badly run by an owner with an ego larger than his checkbook) with warts and all, stripped away the rose-colored veneer of my childhood affection. I scored a long interview with Joe Jacoby that remains one of the highlights of my reporting career. I watched bruising fullback Mike Sellers tear up when talking about his young daughter. But I stopped loving the Redskins, and by extension the NFL, quite as much.

Other body blows have followed. Revision after revision of rules to drive up points while diluting the game. Naked greed by owners and a commissioner sanctioned by a blind and/or oblivious fan base. Players who can't seem to channel the raw aggression that defines their game into acceptable avenues in their lives. Pistols pointed at heads and chests that once proudly bore hard-earned numbers and logos. Lip-service pink gloves and cleats backed up by toothless, ball-less decisions.  

Which brings me to Ray Rice. 

I must admit, I hadn't seen the video until today. Life, you know. My husband and I's first trip to Key West, a busy work week, etc., etc. In my peripheral consciousness, I knew another Raven had been arrested and was facing a suspension by the league. I didn't know why. I hadn't watched the video.

Today, I did. I watched Rice lug his then-fiancee, now-wife from an elevator. She was unconscious, a condition he apparently caused. Her long hair streamed over her face. Her head bobbed up and down, autonomous muscle control lost sometime before those elevator doors opened. Rice tried to drag her across the floor. He held her shoes in his hand. Another man approached, and I wonder what they talked about as Janay Palmer lay slumped and lifeless between them.

Charges followed, originally against both Rice and Palmer. Rice later faced aggravated assault charges for allegedly knocking Palmer out that, in the magic mix of money and athletic prestige, shrank into much less. Accepted into a pretrial intervention program, he won't go to jail and will probably see the whole ugly incident vaporize from his record.

Rice still faced discipline from the NFL.

That discipline came yesterday, Thursday, in the form of a two-game suspension. It's serious, y'all. He'll lose $470,588, be fined another $58,000 and be asked to take counseling, reported. (Rice signed a five-year, $40 million contract in 2012.)

Just for the sake of comparison, Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon may miss the entire 2014 season as punishment for his repeated marijuana use.

In the wake of the Rice incident at an Atlantic City casino, the typical reaction materialized from the athletic arena. Rice's coach defended his character. His teammates pledged solidarity. There was even an odd, squirmy news conference where Palmer appeared with Rice, and both apologized for their roles in the incident.


I don't know what happened in that casino. Let's stipulate that there was a fight. Let's say Palmer called Rice bad names. Maybe she shoved him - which I do not condone. Then, somehow, the 110-pound woman, in the elevator with the chiseled pro football player, lost consciousness. And she's sorry.

I've never been hit by a man. Like just about every woman, I've been in situations where I feared I would be. Would I have deserved it? You could say that depends, on said situation or any number of variables. Or you could just say, No.

I don't know what Palmer said or did. I know her body, being dragged by the man who loves her, looked like ... a body.

The individual incident, jarring as it is, is not the entire point, nor even the larger one. That would be the NFL's skewed-beyond-reason priorities. Rendering a woman unconscious is not as bad as smoking weed and requires less of an investigative brouhaha than bullying text messages - reprehensible though those were. Roger Goodell requires his players to wear pink to support breast cancer awareness (but allows no other color or cause) but missed a huge chance to make a meaningful statement in support of women.

This, sadly, is not new. Lawrence Phillips dragged his girlfriend down a flight of stairs but was deemed rehabilitated in time to play for a national championship. I attended a college where pretty girls competed for the chance to put on mascara and high heels and show football recruits around campus. Sports, and pro sports in particular, continue to embrace and encourage a macho culture that is at best harmless fun and at worst an incendiary environment.

I know all this, but for 18 years, I immersed myself in this world, believing its virtue outweighed its vices. The good stories, the compelling stories, were more numerous than the head-shakers, and deserved to be told.

I hope Ray Rice gets help. I hope counseling works and that, if it is in their best interests, he and his wife are happy together. But I don't think I'll be watching to see if he can stage an inspirational comeback after seasons of declining production, or listening as talking heads herald his courage and determination in the face of adversity.

I'm turning my back on you, NFL. Because you turned yours on me– as a fan and a woman—first.