Crime and Punishment
Yesterday afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens finally decided to terminate running back Ray Rice’s contract after new video emerged of him assaulting his then-girlfriend (now wife), Janay Palmer, in a casino elevator. The decision, though necessary, was probably a result of peer pressure and needing better PR around this story. After all, the Ravens’ Twitter feed had, four months ago, tweeted Palmer’s apology for her involvement. It’s the same organization that supported him for months. The Ravens had to do this. PR is important, especially in a league who actively pursues women viewers.
On another branch of the American sporting tree, Atlanta Hawks team owner Bruce Levenson has decided to sell his majority stake in the team. This news came after an email Levenson sent was circulated. In the email, Levenson laments the demographic of Hawks fans attending games, and suggests that the team strive to attract an older, whiter audience. Sent two years ago, the email wades deeply in stereotypes, and theorizes that the black crowd scares away white fans. Levenson apologized for the email and has agreed to sell the team, though the NBA had not compelled the sale. Though Levenson stands to make a profit, he won’t make Sterling money.
Finally, just last week CeeLo’s reality show got canceled and he was uninvited from a performance for the US Navy, after he tweeted that “real” rape can only occur if a woman was conscious. There’s no indication what else CeeLo stands to lose in terms of money and exposure. But he has since apologized in the interim.
There are plenty of examples of people of note doing and saying horrible things to a person or a certain group of people and getting terrible PR and/or (temporarily) losing their job(s). These are just the latest examples. Yet this recent slew, the Ray Rice case in particular made me wonder: Just how effective are these “punishments”?
To be clear, Ray Rice should not be employed to play football, CeeLo shouldn’t be singing for sailors, etc., and Bruce Levenson shouldn’t own an organization whose primary draw is black people. Yet, if Levenson will now sell a business he probably wanted to sell anyway, how much has he learned from his racist ways? Will CeeLo spend the time he would have spent performing the for the Navy learning that women are human beings? Most importantly, what happens to Janay Palmer when Ray Rice, now unemployed, comes home?
I’m afraid these punishments satiate the public’s desire for some sort of collective conscious cleansing justice, assuages our righteous indignation more so than it adequately teaches proper lessons and/or helps those who have been victimized by these incidents. And if justice is not served in that way, what was the point? Our money-obsessed and -driven society sort of demands that justice always look like a loss in the money column. But such punishment is limited and, I think, in many ways unhelpful. How does Ray Rice losing a job go beyond being a way too late PR success for the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL? How does it ensure the safety of Janay Palmer? If that last question cannot be answered properly, then perhaps we should reconsider the purpose for our anger and the actions that quieted it.