Adolpho Birch had to know it was coming.
Why was the suspension only for two games? Why was the fine worth only a few hundred thousand dollars? Where was the accountability for a taped encounter that showed Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of an elevator?
In what became a failed attempt to explain their reasoning, the NFL sent Birch to be the sacrificial lamb on ESPN’s Mike and Mike on Monday morning. What transpired thereafter was pretty close to a fiasco in which Birch, being the good soldier for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, failed to explain most everything related to the suspension.
Birch talked about each case being evaluated individually, yet cited precedent as a guideline to measure the punishment. He talked about losing hundreds of thousands of dollars being a sufficient deterrent despite such totals meaning virtually nothing to multi-millionaire athletes. And then, he dropped the biggest bomb of all by stating that the parties involved were satisfied with the punishment.
Therein lies where both Birch and the NFL indeed bombed.
The parties involved (the NFL, the Ravens and Rice himself) undoubtedly were satisfied with the punishment. What they don’t seem to grasp is that for the rest of us, the suspension and subsequent explanation aren’t satisfactory. Rather, it’s bordering on a travesty.
In a country where domestic abuse cases run rampant, the NFL chose the path of least resistance. Don’t forget, this is the same NFL that likes to claim moral superiority and leadership on social issues under the guise of “protecting the shield.” But now, with the chips down and a video circulating showing the results of Rice’s outburst, the NFL fumbled the ball away. They look soft. They look tone-deaf. And perhaps most damaging is they appear not to care all that much.
Of course, once the season starts all will be forgotten. Football is king in America, and as long as the public gets their fill of hard hits each and every Sunday, this incident will fade away into a collective shrug by folks flowing through the turnstiles. In the meantime, the NFL will continue on its merry way with their billion-dollar industry intact.
Until the NFL actually starts feeling the wrath of the paying public’s dollars, none of the current righteous indignation will mean a thing. The NFL has shown time and again that its primary concern will always be bottom line money. As long as their pocketbooks are full, all is well in the league’s eyes.
In other words, the NFL doesn’t care if you don’t like the punishment handed down to Rice. Birch’s ham-handed attempts to justify the length of the suspension notwithstanding, they have a business to protect and that’s really what it always boils down to.
Will this current righteous indignation stick? The NFL is betting it won’t. And as history has taught us, it’s been a winning hand.