So let me get this straight: There is video evidence of Ray Rice dragging a semi-conscious female out of a hotel elevator, with a domestic violence arrest to support what I see, and I’m supposed to be righteously indignant with Roger Goodell and Stephen A. Smith?

Way to go, America. Once again we’ve directed our anger at the Band-Aid instead of the wound. Hopefully you do realize that’s why we’re in trouble as a republic.

By the time we’re finished debating the insult of what is seemingly a wink-wink-nudge-nudge, two-game suspension, or one talking head’s deplorable suggestion that a woman is somehow responsible for not getting her own face rearranged, Rice will be back on the field.

He will score a touchdown or help run out the clock by breaking a tackle and moving the chains. His Baltimore Ravens will register a “huge” divisional win over the Pittsburgh Steelers or Cincinnati Bengals. His fans will holler and hoist foamy beverages with glee. Many will feel comfortable wearing his jersey again in time for a run deep into the playoffs, if their consciences even persuaded them to keep those colors in cold storage for a while in the first place.

See, all manner of misbehavior is forgiven in this country if you entertain or intrigue us in any way. Athletes aren’t alone. Sometimes if you’re an actor, musician or politician, very public moral failure even enhances your popularity.

We sycophantic fools become so disenchanted with our own mundane existence that we worship at the altar of celebrity, turning everyone from Ray Rice to Miley Cyrus to President Bill Clinton into a sympathetic figure. They make a train wreck out of their lives, and we roll our eyes and blame “the media,” the very same media that made them all every scintilla of who and what they are.

No question Goodell is an easy target. He has built his reputation by making an example of Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress in the name of dogs and unwitting nightclub patrons, respectively, and rightfully so. Placing a woman’s safety on a lower plane is an insult to victims of domestic violence (regardless of gender) and those who have fought on their behalf.

But do you seriously think Commissioner Goodytwoshoes is the first person to look the other way and take a soft stance on crime when a Super Jock is involved? You didn’t pay much attention to the goings-on in the halls of your high school while growing up, then. Or to the O.J. Simpson trial.

Preferential treatment abounds. And let’s not pretend that Goodell exercised a zero-tolerance policy with prior offenders. Only in a nation obsessed with professional football could a multi-millionaire being sent home without pay from our favorite team for one month, or two, be construed as punishment.

The more we learn about the life story of Aaron Hernandez, for example, the harder it is to believe that neither Goodell nor Bill Belichick nor Robert Kraft nor somebody affiliated with the University of Florida didn’t see something that rose to the level of a punishable offense before he was accused of capital crimes.

Why was Hernandez’s life of thuggery allowed to prevail, from his days as a troubled teenager to the night it finally caught up with him? Because he was supremely gifted at running, blocking and catching passes. From the practice field to the projection TV, he entertained the hell out of us.

NFL suspensions, like the recent rules changes that most of us admittedly hate, really are just a way of getting everyone from special-interest groups to the government out of the league’s hair. Pro football is under fire for its handling of concussions and its treatment of former and current players alike. All visible attempts by the league to clean up its act are nothing more than a preemptive strike, anyhow.

You can’t pretend to fight the culture of violence that underscores your game when it is marketed to excess through league-sanctioned video games and highlight films. The bone-crunching hits and chest-thumping theatrics are major reasons we tune in, even if we admit it apologetically.

Pro football, by its nature, attracts (and celebrates) alpha-males who teeter the edge of control. Certainly it can be a gentlemen’s game, as evidenced by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the present and Mike Singletary and Reggie White in the past. You can be a fiery competitor without being a time bomb.

Countless others, however, have not known how to separate the Hyde on the field from the Jekyll that is required to function in everyday society. We have celebrated them with the spoken word and with behavior unspoken, and our desire to be entertained dictates that we will continue.

Ray Rice won’t lose more than two game checks for the same reason he won’t do any serious time in detention: Because we won’t demand it. Do better next time, we’ll say. Learn something from it and move on.

The very advice we should be giving ourselves.

Don’t blame the commissioner. Don’t attack the reactionary, hyper-caffeinated cable commentator. Don’t disrespect this messenger.

We’re all at fault, and sanity and decency won’t prevail until we demand it.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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