Ray Rice won his appeal last Friday of an indefinite suspension, but what did his victory mean?
Let me tell him: It meant nothing. Rice is as much an NFL outcast as he was when commissioner Roger Goodell put him on the indefinite suspension list in September for knocking unconscious the woman he loved.
Only the worst kind of human can pardon what Rice did to a woman who would eventually become his wife. In an era when domestic violence has caught the attention of everybody, athletes don’t get a pass for taking out their frustrations on a woman.
Rice, a former running back with the Baltimore Ravens, realizes that fact now. The woman who would become his wife realizes it as well. Both want to go on with their lives, and for Rice, going on with his life means resuming his football career.
Under ordinary circumstances, he would find teams across the NFL who would welcome a talent like him to its roster. For Rice has been a star, a man who can change a game in an instant, a man who can catch the ball, run with the ball and block.
Nothing, however, is ordinary about Rice’s circumstances. His successful legal fight, which overturns Goodell’s ruling, does free Rice to resume his career. Yet his freedom comes with heavy baggage: He’s a PR nightmare.
What Rice did to Janay Palmer Rice, now the face of domestic violence, inside a hotel elevator last February is neither forgettable nor forgivable. He’ll never again be able to suit up for an NFL team and expect its fans to give him the star’s treatment.
Talent will never trump the NFL brand and Goodell has proved overly sensitive to keeping the NFL brand strong. He’s slapped heavyweight fines on players for things as trivial as not speaking to media or for wearing unapproved headphones on NFL property.
Having lost in court, Goodell can’t again punish Rice, although if Goodell could, he would dock Rice more than $100,000 for conduct detrimental to the shield.
Docked paychecks or not, Goodell has made Rice almost untouchable. Only a team with little regard for its reputation with female fans will dare try to add Rice to its roster.
So here’s where Rice is: He can’t find a buyer for his talent, even though no one or nothing bars him from taking the football field next Sunday. Even the Ravens, if they wanted, can re-sign him. They won’t.
What is a football player without a football team? Answer: a man on the jobless line.
Not sure what Rice thought his career after the NFL would look like, but he needs now to make that vision a reality. He’s not employable – not as a professional athlete, at least. He can talk about having made peace with his wife, but the peace he needs to make is with fans and an NFL that are intolerant of a man who beats a woman.
They are less willing to put his past behind them than the repentant Ray Rice is, and not even the federal court can order Goodell or NFL fans to like a man who did what Rice did.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Rob Carr/Getty Images)