Vacuum of power

For half a second, I was actually impressed.

I was impressed that the Baltimore Ravens had terminated Ray Rice's contract when the appalling video of Rice punching his fiancee in the face and knocking her unconscious surfaced on Monday. Then I remembered reports from as early as July saying that Ravens brass and league officials had seen that punch. And then I remembered that press conference, the one where Janay Palmer was trotted out to sit beside the man who could have killed her, and apologize for her role in her own potential death.

I was not impressed that Roger Goodell announced Rice's indefinite suspension after the Ravens made their inexcusably late but at-least-it's-something move. The commissioner of the league should not be following anyone's lead. He is supposed to be the leader. I'm even less impressed to learn that TMZ, the celebrity news site that first broke the story and then leaked the entire video after posting parts of it in July, says NFL representatives saw what a shocked nation saw 24 hours ago "shortly after the incident" - which happened, by the way, in February.

An aside: If you wonder what Palmer was doing in that elevator, what she was doing with Rice, you are part of the problem. Victim-blaming is fashionable but not cute. I could pontificate about the cycle of abuse and how abusers systematically break their victims down before ever raising a hand to them, but that's not necessary. It's enough to say this: It doesn't matter why he hit her. It matters that he hit her. And as to Palmer's Instagram statement supporting "the man she loves," some education about dissociation, disordered thinking and post-traumautic stress syndrome (prevalent in up to 68 percent of battered women) would be a good idea before tweeting from the hip. 

The official NFL line is that no one in the league saw the grainy image of Rice's uppercut that knocked Palmer off her feet and against an elevator railing until Monday. This assertion had even former players taking to Twitter to offer discounted deals on bridges in Arizona to anyone who believed it. Today come contradictory statements from TMZ founder and executive producer Harvey Levin, quoted on FOXsports.com as saying that "people from the NFL" went to the casino where the incident occurred and viewed the tape in the immediate aftermath. Levin also says the the casino would have given the NFL a copy of the tape - if the NFL had asked for one.

I don't know who saw what when. I do know that Roger Goodell runs a tightly controlled ship, of which he is the undisputed captain. One of two things happened during his watch: He either issued a laughably light two-game suspension to Rice without bothering to collect all the available evidence, or he saw Rice punch the woman he would later marry in the face and decided that two games was enough time to miss for that. If the latter occurred, Goodell also decided he could keep anyone else from finding out the extent of the assault - and the limitless depths to which he will sink to protect his product.

If nothing else, at the absolute bare minimum, Goodell saw what the rest of us saw in July. He saw Rice drag Palmer's rag-doll body from the elevator, carrying her dislodged shoe. (The shoe came off, we now know, when Rice, a sculpted, 206-pound NFL running back, hit her so hard she flew backward). He saw him prop her up and regard her with something like irritation as another man approached. He saw these men stand over this woman's body and do ... nothing. That this merited, in the commissioner's mind, a two-game suspension for a violation of the league's personal conduct policy alone is outrageous. To learn that, in all likelihood, Goodell saw - because if anyone in his kingdom saw, he saw - all that came before, and still thought a two-game suspension would do as punishment, is repugnant.

Here's the thing, King Roger. You can't control the flow of information. It's clear that you think you can. I was part of the NFL media long enough to get a feel for the vise it operates under. But not everyone answers to you. TMZ does not care about access to your practices or your locker rooms. A video of a man knocking a woman unconscious is unconcerned with your TV ratings and merchandise sales - which, by the way, are trucking along just fine. The fact that you thought you could get a handle on this, manage it, mitigate it, minimize it, speaks more to your fundamentally flawed character than your blatant disregard for what happened to Janay Palmer in that elevator. 

But here's the thing, part two: None of it matters if no one does anything. If the money keeps rolling in and the televisions keep tuning in and people keep clicking on the links to personalized jerseys and fantasy standings that appear in the online news stories about Ray Rice knocking a woman unconscious, none of it matters. In fact, Goodell will be proven right. His belief - illustrated in both his woefully shortsighted action and inaction - that the bottom line trumps every other concern will be cashed in. Outrage will recede. Rice will languish. Memories will fade. 

Until the next man who makes the wrong move in a nightclub where Aaron Hernandez is partying, or the next woman who accepts a drink from Darren Sharper. Until the next time Janay Palmer pisses off Ray Rice, who is now her husband. Only this time, in that case, there won't be any cameras around.

Your league makes money hand over fist, Mr. Goodell, but the emperor has no clothes. The commissioner has no soul, spine, or other pertinent body parts. 

Ray Rice is out of the league, and that's a good thing. It's time for Roger Goodell to join him on the sidelines.