And not only have they already started, but it's getting results.
For those that came in late: Ray Rice was a running back for the Baltimore Ravens football team. Back in February, he was caught on security cameras dragging the unconscious body of his then-fiance, Janay Palmer, out of the elevator like a sack of flour. The footage from inside the elevator showing what exactly happened was missing. Rice was charged with aggrevated battery and investigated no further. As he was a first time offender, he was sent to a diversion program. After that, the NFL suspended him for two games. Marijuana in a drug test? Four games. Slug a woman unconscious? Two games. Everything hinged on the feigned ignorance that no one knew exactly what happened in the elevator.
Then, in September, the bottom fell out. The elevator footage was found by TMZ and broadcast far and wide. The Ravens saw the footage and cut him from the team. And then Roger "Paper Tiger" Goodell, the NFL commissioner, decided to suspend him from the league permanently. Even the Ravens locker room had turned against Rice. Once the footage got out, people in the locker room said they had stood with Rice because they didn't know it was that bad. He told them Palmer got hyped and they apparently believed he had every reason to knock her block off. But seeing the actual hit, the team supposedly felt betrayed, that Rice hadn't told them the whole story. Bullshit.
People were wondering if Rice would put the NFL Players Union in the tought spot of having to defend him by appealing the permanent suspension. Sure enough, he did. So an arbitrator got to listen to the union argue that the two game suspension was correct and a lifetime ban was excessive.
Of course, the union had to fight this. Otherwise, Goodell and individual teams could use "the best interests of the game" to selectively stick it to players. Most of us were hoping the arbitrator would buck the trend and leave the ruling stand. But no. Former US District court judge Barbara S. Jones said that what the NFL did was essentially try Rice twice for the same crime, which is against the Constitution (considering often the NFL tramples on free speech, I'm curious how the Constitution should be considered NOW of all times). "Because Rice did not mislead the commissioner and because there were no new facts on which the commissioner could base his increased suspension, I find that the imposition of the indefinite suspension was arbitrary. I therefore vacate the second penalty imposed on Rice."
The official statement from the NFL, coming from spokesman Greg Aiello, was, "We respect Judge Jones's decision to reinstate Ray Rice from his indefinite suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy in an incident of domestic violence."
This puts the league in a tricky situation. There is a very real problem with DA in the league, from Rice to Greg Hardy to Ray McDonald to Floyd Mayweather. The NFL has been trying to market itself to the female demographic with jerseys tailored to women and supporting breast cancer awareness and other superficial niceties. Come on, you don't think it's coincidence that female empowerment performer Katie Perry is going to be the Super Bowl halftime show, do you? Just like how the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl after Hurricane Katrina or the Patriots won the Super Bowl after 9/11? Come on now, get a clue.
The campaign to sweep Rice's crime under the rug actually began with the arbitrator's ruling. She issued it on Friday night about 7PM. Saturday newspapers are the worst days because they are so thin -- most of the effort goes into the Sunday paper, which has the biggest readership of the week. Late enough there wasn't much time to find experts or commentary, the news warranted a small write-up in the Sun Times on Saturday and a longer but still pretty much "follow the press release" report in the Tribune. The Sunday papers? Absolutely no mention except for a one paragraph letter of comment in the Tribune. Nothing in the sports pages. Nothing in the op-ed pages. If you missed the Saturday paper, you'd have never seen it mentioned at all. This is bullshit. When Rice was first suspended for two games, people devoted column inches and screen space to bitching about it. It increased in volume when the TMZ footage came out.
Now? Crickets. Crickets everywhere.
All these people who couldn't wait to talk about it before are eerily silent.
So, how about all the people who said Rice was slime and should be killed? All the teams that felt he was a PR disaster? Well, according to ESPN, both the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints are expressing interest in signing him, and two other unnamed teams are sniffing around. As of today. Sunday. Less than 48 hours after the ruling. Doesn't matter that Rice hasn't played a minute of football since September. Doesn't matter that he's 27 and is on the downward slide of his career. Doesn't matter that he's a beater. He's still a three time Pro Bowler and dammit, that kind of talent doesn't just grow on trees. Rice also became the #1 added player in fantasy football leagues within hours of the ruling being issued. Yahoo!'s own fantasy league found him added to over 168,000 teams that day (the second highest addition was Matt Asiatta of the Vikings, added to 14,000 teams in the same time period).
It's a harsh lesson -- you can do unspeakable evil as long as you're a winner, then everybody will stick up for you. You mark my words, Rice will be welcomed back with a standing ovation and breathless stories about how he has overcome adversity and become respectable again.
What makes me so sure this will happen?
As far as the general public goes, Vick's crime was worse because he was abusing helpless dogs, turning man's best friend into a killing machine or killing it instead. He got out of prison, and the campaign to whitewash his crimes was so effective, he even has a dog as a pet now (it's amazing what five figure contributions to the Humane Society and the ASPCA will do for you). Vick was celebrated for turning his life around and facing down the haters, saying that people who wouldn't forgive and forget were being racist. To this day, it's only people like me that remember that crime and still hold him in contempt for it.
Janay Palmer wasn't a helpless dog, she was a woman that could be presented as a typical hanger-on of a sports legend. So she doesn't even have the defenders that animals have. This will be easier to erase from the public mind than what Vick did. If he isn't signed by the end of the season, it'll be shortly afterwards to get him in a team's system, with everyone saying everyone deserves a second chance.
Shame on anyone who allows themselves to forget this.