For those who love the game of football, the story of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is discouraging, for the public game is being overshadowed by private behavior. By his own admission on February 15, 2014, at the Revel Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, Ray Rice punched his fiancée in an elevator, knocking her out. Despite this physical assault, Ray and Janay Palmer got married one month after the attack. When his terrible deed was reported in the news media Rice was suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for two games. Since the suspension of Ray Rice several other professional football players have come under intense public scrutiny, including Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings for alleged child abuse.
In assessing these situations from a distance it is easy to discern that the situation of NFL players acting badly off of the field is being dealt with on several dimensions.
First, there is the legal consideration. Assault and battery, and child abuse crimes are worthy of judicial punishment. The courts must step in to assess these situations.
Second, there is the business consideration. Every team owner is wondering what the economic impact will be on the NFL as a brand with an estimated combined income of about six billion dollars. Negative publicity hurts a name brand.
Third, there is the practical response. What official action should the NFL take against behavior that is unbecoming? Certainly a general league policy is needed. Finally, there is the moral dimension, and that is what I am very interested in.
At the moment it seems like a lot of self-righteousness is being manifested. Ray Rice was punished, and then punished again for the same transgression. Initially he was suspended for two games, and then he was suspended indefinitely. Adrian Peterson was suspended, reinstated and then suspended indefinitely.
Sports commentators are wondering if these men should be barred from the game of football for life. It is argued these men should have their livelihoods taken away from them. And then what? What will they do for a living? And what will become of their families who still depend on them?
From a Christian’s perspective there are opportunities in life to have a teachable moment. I believe this is a teachable moment. Obviously these men committed egregious offensives. A woman was battered and a child was abused. The video and the photos of both events speak for themselves. Both men are worthy of a measured discipline—and that is the key concept. There must be a measured response. A temporary suspension from the game, a fine, community service, counseling, being monitored and even jail time, if deemed legally culpable, for the bodily harm they have caused others is not inappropriate. But on the other side of the discipline there must be a place for redemption and restoration. Where sin abounds, grace can much more abound. I hope it does.
The sin which Jesus seemed to hate above all sins is the sin of self-righteousness. Christ expressed some of His strongest denunciations against individuals who stood to condemn in others what they condoned in themselves (Matt. 23:13-39). When judging others, Jesus cautioned to “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Justice must be tempered by grace and mercy.