THE BLOG
09/09/2014 03:03 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2014

The NFL's Implausible Deniability

Winston Churchill once observed, "You can always count on America to do the right thing -- after they've tried everything else."

Churchill's backhanded compliment seems equally applicable to the National Football League in its handling of Ray Rice.

In what may be the biggest public relation blunder since then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle made the decision to play on the Sunday following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the NFL brazenly behaved as if they were an institution possessing little need for crisis management.

The Baltimore Ravens recently released its star running back and the NFL also suspended him indefinitely due to shocking video showing Rice knocking out his future wife with a punch in February.

The initial video only showed Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an Atlantic City casino elevator.

Originally, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for a mere two games. The subsequent public outcry forced the NFL to establish a new zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence.

But the new video, released by TMZ, forced the Ravens and the NFL to take more drastic measures.

Some have suggested the decision to cut ties with Rice was the right thing to do. Frankly, it was the only option available if the NFL wished to maintain any semblance of respectability.

How could the world's most lucrative sports enterprise, feeding our primordial thirst for violence, be so obtuse when it comes to protecting its image that tarnishing it became the only option available?

Instead of taking the necessary action, the Ravens and the NFL opted for the cowardly path of implausible deniability.

According to the Ravens and the NFL, the version of the video that TMZ supplied marked the first time they were aware of the disturbing details. But ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported though he had not seen the video prior to its release, he was aware of the contents.

"It was out there, I'll say three months ago, in which you knew that Ray Rice had struck Jenay [his then fiancée] twice inside the elevator and the second blow knocked her head against the railing and she was out," Mortensen said.

If Mortensen knew the details, how can the NFL and the Ravens maintain they were unaware?

Without the second video Rice would have soon reported back to work. The earlier video showing Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of the elevator obviously did not suffice.

The first video was not enough for the legal system to press charges. It allowed Rice's teammates to rally around their troubled comrade and the Ravens organization to offer their facilities so that Rice and his fiancée could hold a press conference, where she apologized for her culpability that the team quickly tweeted out to its legion of fans.

When Rice returned to practice in July he was reportedly greeted with thunderous applause by the estimated 25,000 in attendance. The first video was not a deterrent for a number of men, women, and children to adorn Rice's jersey during the Raven's season opener last week.

But the next day, the new video was released; and the plausible deniability that the NFL, the Ravens, and some fans clung to became implausible.

The behavior of Ravens fans is hardly atypical -- it is reflective of the overall ethos that the NFL has carefully cultivated. The San Francisco 49ers' Ray McDonald was recently arrested for domestic violence, but he played in the opening game against Dallas.

This was initially a story about Ray Rice's deplorable behavior; it is now about the NFL blindly protecting its brand, more concerned with profits than people. If Rice were a third-string player rather than a three-time Pro Bowl running back, would it have been handled the same?

The NFL shirked its responsibility to demonstrate an authentic concern for domestic violence against women, which is 44 percent of its fan base. But it can be said the NFL and the Ravens finally did the right thing -- only after they tried everything else.