The Baltimore Ravens and the NFL sent a clear message this week after the video of Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancee was released.
Do whatever you want off the field, but for God's sake don't get caught doing it on video.
Ravens and NFL officials were, supposedly, horrified by what they saw on that video TMZ put out Monday, showing Rice knocking out Janay Palmer (now Janay Rice).
Even though the video showed pretty much exactly what Rice told them had happened.
They weren't reacting to anything they saw in the video. They were reacting to a disgusted public's reaction. And the public was not just disgusted with Rice, but with the way the NFL and the Ravens had handled the situation since the assault occurred in February.
The New Yorker, among others, raised this question: "What did people think it looked like when a football player knocked out a much smaller woman?"
Before the video came out – and you can draw your own conclusions as to whether you believe the NFL had seen it prior to Monday – commissioner Roger Goodell and the league had decided a two-game suspension was plenty for knocking out a woman in an elevator. The Ravens organization had decided to support Rice fully, opting not to impose any punishment whatsoever. And, of course Ravens fans gave him a standing ovation during a scrimmage at M&T Bank Stadium, treating him like a returning hero.
Nothing substantively changed on Monday. Yet, suddenly the NFL and the Ravens fell all over themselves trying to do the "right" thing.
The NFL suspended him indefinitely. The Ravens cut him loose. Both moves came in response to the outrage that was phoned in, emailed, tweeted and communicated in Facebook posts. Everyone, it seemed, spent Monday expressing their disgust for Rice's actions as well as for the wrist-slap he received from the league and the organization. (Not to mention the legal system. The powers that be in Atlantic City, New Jersey looked at that video and decided no jail time was needed. Is it any wonder a sports league and one of its teams failed to take domestic violence seriously when the legal system obviously doesn't?)
Before this video came out, the NFL, the Ravens and the fans were quite happy to move on, glossing over what happened in that elevator. It's disturbing, but not surprising they acted that way.
The NFL had a vested interest in putting this issue into the past. They didn't want a stiff penalty which could've resulted in appeals and more bad publicity. Goodell & Co. love to rule with an iron fist when it comes to questionable hits by defensive backs or possible bounties put up by coaches or even recreational drug use.
But when it comes to actual off-the-field violence, they like to pretend it doesn't exist. (USA Today reported this week that there have been an average of seven incidents of domestic violence committed by NFL players per year since 2000, usually resulting in little or no punishment.)
The Ravens didn't want to get rid of Rice. In addition to the negative publicity, it would also have created "dead money" on future salary caps and taken away a weapon capable of rushing for 1,200 or so yards and catching 50 or more passes. They portrayed Rice in blogs on their website and in their words as a great guy who had been provoked into making a bad mistake.
That's why they tweeted out his wife's apology for her "role" in the incident and why they made her face the media alongside Rice when he finally spoke publicly. (Yet they couldn't make their owner or president or general manager available to answer questions the day the video came out.)
The fans supported their player because, well, that's what fans do.
The Ravens and their fans have, of course, had plenty of practice dealing with off-the-field issues over the years as several high-profile Baltimore players (Ray Lewis, Jamal Lewis, and Terrell Suggs, among others) have been involved in run-ins with the law.
Has anyone learned from this? Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti wrote in a letter that the organization has.
We'll see. What we know for sure is that the NFL has not.
Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy had a sack last week against Tampa Bay. And he's expected to play today against the Detroit Lions. He has not been disciplined by his team or the league despite having been convicted of domestic assault. (He was found guilty in July by a judge but his case is under automatic appeal and headed for a jury trial.)
Here's the Charlotte Observer's account of what Hardy did, according to the victim's testimony under oath. Hardy ... flung her from the bed, threw her into a bathtub, then tossed her on a futon covered with rifles. ... [He] ripped a necklace he had given her off her neck, threw it into a toilet and slammed the lid on her arm when she tried to fish it out. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Hardy dragged her by the hair room to room, she said, before putting his hands around her throat. 'He looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me,' [she] said.
San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald helped his team beat the Dallas Cowboys last week. And he's expected to play against the Chicago Bears tonight, on "Football Night in America," despite being arrested over Labor Day weekend on suspicion of domestic violence against his pregnant fiancee.
The San Jose, California, police department said she had "visible injuries." And the 49ers' CEO was quoted as saying "Ray McDonald is not Ray Rice."
That's true. Rice's fiancee wasn't pregnant when he assaulted her.
So Rice is out of football, his career likely over, his formerly supportive team all too happy to buy back his jersey from enraged fans, the NFL feigning shock at what they saw on that video.
Meanwhile, Hardy and McDonald are getting ready to play games.
Lucky for them the cameras weren't rolling when they got angry at their women.
And lucky for them so many in our society (including fans and NFL decision-makers) are content to rationalize and largely ignore pretty much any transgression -- unless and until indisputable video evidence surfaces.
Bob Blubaugh is the Times' sports editor. His column appears every Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7895 or email@example.com.