On Thursday night, ESPN’s Keith Olbermann delivered an on-point condemnation of the NFL’s pathetic sanctions against the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice. Rice was charged with assault after being caught on video dragging his unconscious fiancée from a casino elevator. As my colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley noted, “Rice was indicted by a grand jury on a felony assault charge, but avoided further prosecution by agreeing to participate in a pretrial intervention program.” Many assumed that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would issue a severe punishment of his own. After all, this is the league that issues four-game suspensions for marijuana use. In this case, however, Goodell handed Rice a fine and a two-game suspension.
Olbermann paused for 45 seconds during his ESPN monologue to show the silent surveillance footage of Rice removing his then-fiancée, now wife, from the elevator. Olbermann then notes that defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth was suspended five games for stepping on a player’s head during a game—an infraction the NFL took very, very seriously.
By being so lenient with Rice, Olbermann argues, the NFL displays an offensive disregard for women. As Justin Peters reported in Slate two years ago, 21 of 32 NFL teams “had employed a player with a domestic violence or sexual assault charge on his record” during the 2012 season.
While Olbermann’s points about the NFL are well-taken, I am particularly impressed by his attention to the responsibilities of sports journalists. Yes, pro football has a woman problem, but so do many other sports, as well as the people who comment on them. Olbermann took the opportunity to highlight comments about Marion Bartoli’s looks, Brittney Griner’s gender identity, and Gabby Douglas’ hair, noting how each of them “lowers the level of basic human respect for women in sports.”
A change in attitude across an industry does not come easy. On Friday morning, not long after Olbermann’s segment ran, his ESPN colleague Stephen A. Smith opined that while, sure, domestic violence is bad, women should make sure they don’t do “anything to provoke wrong actions.” In such a climate, Olbermann’s words are not only refreshing, but incredibly important. Well done, Keith.