“Double-digit sack artist torments girlfriend and signs with Super Bowl contender”
“2000 yard running back whips child and gains financial stability with adjusted contract”
“Talented defensive end arrested for the fifth time, Released, but teams are still interested”
“Declining injured running back apologizes for domestic violence, but remains unsigned”
Of course, these headlines are exaggerated, but this seems to be what that the NFL and its 32 teams are leading players and fans to believe.
In this past year, we have seen multiple players deal with major off-field issues and there is no consistency in how teams determine who gets a second chance and who doesn’t. The biggest loser in this inconsistency is Ray Rice. Yes, what he did was deplorable and very unfortunate but he appears to be remorseful, his wife and her family have forgiven him, and he is in football shape. But no team has given him an opportunity to resume his NFL career.
Are teams afraid of the media and corporate backlash of signing a “woman beater?” If so, why was it so easy for the Dallas Cowboys to sign defensive end Greg Hardy. Many point to the video evidence in the Rice incident — specifically his refusal to help Janay Rice up after he hit her — but the arrest warrant that describes the Hardy case depicts a more disturbing incident.
It can’t just be about visual evidence…
The nation saw the photos of the damage caused by Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson when he whipped his young son, but not only has the team welcomed him back into the fold, but the team restructured his contract to pay him more money.
And even as recent as this past weekend we saw Aldon Smith arrested for the fifth time in his short NFL career for allegedly driving under the influence and vandalizing a vehicle during a hit-and-run accident, and yet there are multiple teams still interested in signing the troubled young man — and this is without knowing the severity of the sure-to-come discipline from King Goodell and the NFL offices.
The one commonality that Hardy, Peterson, and Smith share — despite their off-field troubles– is that most teams feel that they can still contribute at a high enough level to warrant a second chance — unfortunately for Rice they don’t see the same with him.
What type of message is the NFL sending its younger fan base; no matter what you do off the field, as long as teams think you can still contribute on the field, there will be a place for you in the league.
“Think” is so telling in this narrative because no team knows what Rice is capable of. For some teams, the consternation could come from a sub-par 2013 season in which Rice’s production took a major hit — his 3.1 ypc average resulted in the lowest yardage output (636) since his rookie season. But we now know Rice was trying to play through a severe hip injury and has since had surgery — so what is the excuse now?
For Rice not to even be invited to a team’s training camp, is perplexing and the league as a collective could be sending a mixed message by ostracizing him while others with conduct issues are preparing for Monday practice.
Some fans are beginning to wonder if Rice is being blackballed by the league? While that thinking seems hard to conceive, it might not be that far-fetched. This is not the first time that word has been associated with the NFL as it was believed to be a unified team blockage against Terrell Owens continuing his NFL career years ago. While it’s hard to prove you have to ask yourself; are there really 100+ running backs participating in NFL training camps right now better than Rice — even at this stage of his career?
The answer is no, but he is still waiting to hear from a team. What the league could have done was convince a team to invite Rice to camp — don’t act like the league hasn’t used its absolute power to influence team decisions before — determine his value on the field and then make a legitimate football decision, similar to what happened in St. Louis Rams when they drafted, and eventually released, Michael Sam.
Unfortunately, the NFL hasn’t had the best track record of doing the right thing lately and this mishap could end up costing Rice any shot of ever playing in the league again.