In February, TMZ obtained footage of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice in a domestic dispute with his then-fianceé Janay Palmer. The disturbing video showed Rice knock her out cold at an Atlantic City hotel. As a result, the NFL has banned him from two games in the 2014 season.
"The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public, and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game," wrote NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a letter to Rice. "This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women." In response, Rice stated he was sorry and that, while missing two games is "disappointing," he accepts responsibility. Ravens coach John Harbaugh says Rice is a "good guy who made a mistake."
Like you, ESPN2 host Keith Olbermann is having none of this.
Following the announcement, Olbermann couldn't resist commenting on these events. What does it say when recreational pot use can lead to a one-year suspension for a player, and domestic violence results in just two games? According to the host, it sends a poor message to women. "The NFL wants your money. It will do nothing else for you. It will tolerate those who abuse you verbally and those who abuse you physically," he told his audience.
His five-minute clip uses Rice's controversy as a timely hook for the way women are held in poor view in major league sports in general. He cites examples of verbal abuse from male athletes against female athletes, reporters, and fans. According to Obermann, Rice's is not an isolated incident. "With such little punishment for such a major offense, another generation of athletes and fans begins to view the women in sports as just a little less human," says Obermann.
It feels like an extreme reaction to say the NFL condones domestic violence, even if Olbermann is right in that Rice's punishment seems meager in comparison to other offenses. But, his commentary is rooted in the very real truth that football and women have an ever-changing relationship — one that's making positive strides. When Rice isn't punished severely, it makes those strides seem more like baby steps.