Thoughts on the NFL abuse scandal

The NFL is being forced to backtrack and install harsher penalties following the outrage of the video of Ray Rice knocking out his wife being released and Adrian Peterson being indicted for child abuse. While the attention has focused on both instances of abuse as well as the response of the NFL, I would like to consider the broader cultural implications of the story.

First, I think the outrage is driven by a certain cultural elitism. When Roman Polanski was arrested for raping a 13 year old child in Switzerland in 2009 after spending 30 years hiding from justice the public outrage was muted. In fact, numerous well known movie and television personalities expressed their support for him.  Despite this, there was no conversation about the moral failure of Hollywood. The NFL is being excoriated in the media, not for defending Rice and Peterson, but for not punishing them harshly enough. Part of the reason for this different treatment is that sports fans and players are seen as unsophisticated. They need to be told how to act while famous movie directors are the kind of people the media enjoys talking to at cocktail parties.

The second point is the blurring of the line between private and public. The NFL, not the police, is expected to punish Ray Rice for assaulting his wife. Or, if the law treats domestic violence too lightly. Then the focus should be on changing the law, not the NFL. That people, especially the liberal elite, are expecting a private actor to punish what is a public crime, especially because the public punishment failed, is somewhat ironic. Especially so because it contributes to the conflation of public and private, a distinction I imagine they would assert they want to keep.

Lastly, from the target of the outrage and the response we can infer several things. First, private monopolies are extremely sensitive to public pressure, though the NFL is especially so because it is in the entertainment business. The NFL changed their domestic abuse policy after the outrage and pressured Adrian Peterson into not playing.  Second, public monopolies such as the police force are not responsive to public pressure. There has been no additional attempt to prosecute Ray Rice in spite of the outrage, though that is probably a good thing as we do not want justice to be swayed by public opinion. Third, those arguing for additional sanctions on Peterson and Rice implicitly understand the marginal benefits of targeting their outrage at the NFL over the justice system.

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