Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Gospel of Jesus and the NFL

Are you ready for some football?

I would say, "Yes," but it seems football wasn't ready for the scrutiny it came under in how it handles players who are out-of-control when they are off-the-field.

This past week, there was the explosion and revulsion over the video from inside the elevator at a hotel where Ray Rice, now formerly of the Baltimore Ravens, decked his then-girlfriend, now wife, Janay, knocking her out cold. Rice was then seen hauling her limp body out of the elevator as if she were a heavy sack of potatoes.  There were reports of at least two other players in the NFL who also beat their significant others. And then the news that Minnesota Vikings star, Adrian Peterson, used a switch to discipline his toddler which left bloody scars on the child.  Ray Rice was fired by the Ravens and indefinitely suspended from the NFL; the other two players were allowed on the field this past Sunday, and Adrian Peterson, while he was benched in Sunday's loss to the Patriots because he was indicted in the child abuse case, will be back on the field this Sunday.

And that's business in the NFL. The Players Association union is appealing Ray Rice's indefinite suspension. My guess is that it will be overturned and he'll be allowed to play for another team.

Meanwhile, Janay Rice was pretty ticked about all the attention and the scrutiny directed at her husband after TMZ released the video from inside the elevator, and ordered everyone to back off. 

One man did not back off. Sportscaster James Brown of CBS took last Thursday's opening game between the Ravens and the Steelers as a "moment of personal privilege" to raise the bar for men in America:

I appreciate Brown's remarks, especially in light of the teaching of Jesus in last Sunday's Gospel about forgiveness coming on the heals of the equally difficult teaching about making peace with the person who has wronged you in some way from the week before. 

In Sunday's Gospel, Jesus is asked how often one must forgive someone who has done wrong. Is it seven times? No, Jesus says. More like seventy-seven times... or as the text might have actually read: 7x7.  The point is that seven, in the Scriptures, is a number of perfection and so your willingness to forgive must be absolute perfection just in the same way that God's forgiveness of us is absolute perfection. The week before, we heard that if you are in a bitter disagreement with another person, go to that person and have a discussion and strive to work things out.  A one-to-one conversation has to be the first step before something between two people becomes a public matter.

How does that fit with what is happening with Ray Rice et. al in the NFL? One could say that Janay is correct: we, the public, have no place in the matters that are between them, and she doesn't want our presence. I can respect that she is feeling exposed to a harsh light because she and her husband are in a harsher light called, "the public eye." And that's the fact. When someone who is a public figure does something criminal, then that public figure can expect that he or she is going to suffer a more intense scrutiny than someone totally unknown to a wider audience.  Is it fair? Probably not. But it is reality. And when someone of the stature of Ray Rice or any other football player knocks the daylights out of his companion, especially female companion, we have moved from that stage of this being just between folks to being between the folks, the team and the public. When somebody famous commits that act of violence that goes viral because the video got posted to social media... then those who were previously willing to look the other way can't' do so without causing more of a furor. His two-game suspension, if it hadn't already felt appallingly trivial, now was unacceptable. Must it hang around his neck forever?  No, not if he goes to counseling and begins getting to the root of why he thinks it's OK to knock out his now-wife. And his wife also needs counseling, clearly. In one of the defenses of Ray Rice's behavior, some people noted, "She hit him first!" And she should not have hit him. Why does she think that's the appropriate way to deal with her emotions? And if she accepts that Ray Rice is within his right to hit her, she's got some issues to work through with a therapist.

Forgiveness of these misdeeds by the NFL, the individual players and others, is always there. But the first move must also be made to acknowledge that a trust has been broken, and a criminal act committed. And there needs to be a rethinking of one's ways. Perhaps this public embarrassment will lead to true repentence and amendment of life for the NFL... and all its associated players.  And perhaps this will bring to light the need for us in this society to rethink our willingness to look away when it comes to domestic violence.

1 comment:

Phoebe Mcfarlin said...

We need to go back to universities like FSU or maybe before training our athletes correct behaviour for those who hope to be role models.