When there’s too much passion for nuance

I apologize if this post ends up rambling and unfocused, but its honestly too big a topic and i’m far too lazy to plot out and organize my thoughts in advance. (also I hate not having images in a post so i’m going to toss in adorable animal pictures so that it will lighten the mood)

I love listening to sports talk radio usually.  The best shows have a mixture where analysis and humor make up the lion’s share of the show. Throw in some special guests calling in where those segments factoring for maybe 15 to 20 percent of the show, maybe more if it is someone actually interesting and not just a random ex player who is just plugging some random product. Throw in a healthy does of editorial pontificating from the host or hosts, and on occasion add in a smidge of outrage.

A “smidge” isn’t exactly a measurable quantity so it’s hard to define when there’s too much outrage, especially since it depends on many factors. Is the host outraged often? How long has this host(s) been outraged about the same topic?  Is every show covering the same topic with the same measure of outrage?  Is the topic one that deserves such apoplectic discussions? Does the person shouting into the microphone seem/sound sincere.

Right now I am kind of getting weary of listening to the outrage surrounding the Ray Rice/Roger Goodell/Domestic Violence scandal that is dominating the airwaves every day, and I hate that I feel that way.  If I’m looking at my list above of reasons outrage might turn me off from wanting to listen to a broadcast, I find that it contains a mixed bag that both hurts and helps the discussion of this topic.

Yes this topic is obviously one that deserves to be discussed with a high degree of gravitas and passion. I truly believe most of the people that are shouting the loudest are in fact sincere and are not just posturing like they do on so many other topics. Sadly many of the host shouting the loudest are also the ones who shout the loudest regarding most every topic they cover.  Yes every host is covering this same topic almost constantly.

I’ve actually found myself listening to more NPR as of late because i’m getting tired of listening to everyone’s passionate opinions, especially since I can’t actively take part in the discussions when I think there is a point of clarification that needs to be made. However, when I do listen to sports talk radio I find myself keying in on a few things that should be recognized more than they are.  The number one of which is that an abundance of passion makes it difficult to have a nuanced discussion.

(I know, that was a long way to go to actually get to the meat of this post)

I know it sounds like i’m contradicting myself when I say that the passion is good in one breath and then condemn it in another.  Let me clarify. I think passion works best when it is reserved for moments when it is truly warranted, when it is organic, when it is the only rational reaction.  When you view the Ray Rice video from the elevator, there is no reason to not feel anger at what he did and condemn him with great passion.  There is nothing about that kind of reaction that will detract from the over all discussion on how the NFL could/should be handling this crisis.

My problem with all this passion is when it bleeds over into discussions about whether Roger Goodell had access to the elevator video and if he should be fired and if Greg Hardy or Ray Mcdonald should be playing. Instead of having a nuanced conversation where you investigate the grey areas  that surround those situations, you instead get black and white responses that are often rushed.  I’ll give you an example of this form Jay Mohr’s radio show today.  (btw, I love pretty much love everything Jay does and think he has by far the most entertaining sports show period.)

Today Mohr was interviewing the reporter who interviewed Roger Goodell, I forget her name and am too lazy to look it up, but just from the brief interview it was clear she was a top notch journalist. They way she responded to Jay’s questions made me kind of sad that there probably aren’t enough people doing the work she does thanks to all the newspapers dying.  Anyways, at one point she said she couldn’t believe or understand why Hardy for the Panthers was still playing after being convicted of threatening and assaulting his girlfriend. Then as an aside she mentioned that the conviction is currently being appealed.  Jay then jumped in and agreed with her and started to play a hypothetical devil’s advocate and ran through a scenario where it turns out it was just a situation where the girlfriend was mad and concocted the story. He prefaces the hypothetical with a line something like “What would be the worse case scenario if he was suspended now and ….”  As he got to the end of the scenario in which Hardy was actually innocent (which no one really thinks is a possibility) he cut him self short before he stated what it would mean for hardy.

You could hear that he had worked through the mental exercise and the result didn’t fit at all with the narrative him and the guest were weaving. So instead of completing the thought, he just switched back to saying that Hardy should be suspended based on the fact that the owner of the carolina panthers was crying (trust me that part actually makes sense if you know the context of why the owner was crying.)

This gets to the crux of the problem right now.  We have a lot of black and white issues that are obvious and with virtually no ambiguity.  What ray Rice did was deplorable. The original suspensions of two games was woefully light given what happened on the elevator.  The NFL (and most other sports leagues) have not done nearly enough to fight the crisis of domestic abuse amongst its players. Those points shouldn’t really be up for a debate of any kind, let alone a long drawn out nuanced debate.

But whether or not Greg Hardy should be suspended right now even though his case in the judicial system is currently under appeals is something that is not nearly as black and white and really should be judged dispassionately. Once again, I’m guessing the guy is probably a piece of shit that he should never play football again. But that isn’t what needs to be discussed. The question in my mind is what happens if we suspend someone and they end up being found not guilty?  If we pay them for the games they missed does that compensate them for the time missed on the playing field helping his team?

If you go into those questions full of passion in the form of rage, you are going to probably come up with the answers that “Who cares he is getting paid” or “Yeah but he’s probably guilty so who cares”.  Those are arguments that are easy to argue on their merits but hard to discuss in the real world since the person giving them isn’t usually open to listening to a rebuttal.

My opinion is that regardless of what everyone believes to be true at the moment, you need to plan for all the possible scenarios and act accordingly so that if possible, no one is unfairly punished.  There’s two main scenarios here; 1. His original guilty conviction is up held, or 2. The verdict is over turned and he is obstensibly found not guilty (although legally I think it would be more of a mistrial or something along those lines).

In scenario number 1 there is ultimately no harm done if we follow whatever protocal is in place to punish someone. (not sure if this would be the six game suspension, or year long, or whatever else.) and suspend him right now. With scenario number 1 if you wait till after the legal case is settled, then you still have the ability to punish them the same way you would if you suspended them right now, the only difference is when the punishment starts. The number of games should be the same, with the only exception being in a situation where he never plays again because of the type of suspension or because of other football related reasons like age or playing ability forces him out of the league.

In scenario number 2, where he’s surprisingly innocent (once again – highly unlikely) if we suspended him right now before the appeal is finalized, then those games are gone forever. Yes he would get paid for them, but I like to think that most NFL players care about more than just the money and would worry about what their absence would have on their team mates. I think many people in the world who work as part of a team with a shared goal might relate to this.  In scenario number 2 if we waited to suspend him till after the case is concluded, then there would ultimately be no loss of games or negative impact on his team mates (aside from the distraction caused by the case).

Normally I hate trying to solve one question/argument by invoking a somewhat hyperbolic hypothetical situation, but lets do it anyways to show my point.

If it is the start of the play offs and Geisel found something on Tom Bradys phone that pissed her off to the point that she wanted to ruin him, she could call the cops, say golden boy threatened her, press charges, etc.. etc..  In this very very very unlikely situation, I don’t think many people would be pushing for an automatic suspension of Brady while we wait for the legal matter to play itself out.  (I guess there are some real world parallels with what happened with Kobe in Colorado, although that whole thing was sketchy as hell.)

I understand that this is an example of Reductio ad absurdum (kind of)  and that it is far from an apples to apples situation when compared to Hardy.  Still I think the line of thinking is still sound and is even more applicable when compared to Ray Mcdonald.  Currently he has not been found guilty of a crime.  That might change in the near future, but people are already saying that he must be suspended right now and that there isn’t a reason to wait till the legal process finishes.  There is less publicly known about the Ray Mcdonald situation than there is with either Ray Rice or Hardy, but people still fell empowered to speak on it with ultimate authority.

I said that it is passion that is keeping us from having nuanced conversations, but I think impatience is also affecting these debates.

Let’s just say right up front that being impatient is a perfectly acceptable reaction to these situations.  When something awful happens you want it to be rectified immediately, and you can look all over the news for instances where this is true.  How much better would the situation with that kid who got shot in missouri be if the investigation was wrapped up in a week (I can’t believe I can’t remember the name of the town. The kids name was Michael Brown I think).

Impatience is amplified by any  void in information.  With Ray Rice I think one of the major mistakes the commissioner made was not relaying more details of the investigation as it went.  It’s hard to side with him when we don’t know what was presented to him and what his thought process was when he made each misstep along the way.  That void of knowledge begs to be filled and is often done so by people inserting what makes the most sense to them or fits in with whatever they had previously believed.  It is rare that someone is presented with only partial information and decides to fill in the gaps with something that contradicts their previous assumptions.

By my count we have three things working against any hope for a productive conversation; anger, impatience, and ignorance.  I’ve changed passion to anger since it is probably more accurate a term for what most people are feeling.  I should also qualify that the word ignorance should not be viewed as either a positive or negative. It is just a descriptor or maybe a measurement.  I am ignorant to many many things, but that doesn’t mean i should feel ashamed about most of them.  I am ignorant to the farming techniques used in the 1400s in central China, but why would i or should I know about that topic.

So I think I did a pretty good job of setting up why I think it is near impossible to discuss all this in most forums, especially sports talk radio. But now i’m going to push my luck and delve into Roger Goodell and the missteps he’s made and whether he should be fired.  I know a lot of people would start this type of topic with their verdict and then work back words.  I don’t like that in this situation because I think if you are reading this you probably already have your own opinion and that if the one I give is in opposition to yours, then anything I say afterwards will be colored in a negative light.

I said before that the original two game suspension was way too light given what Ray Rice did.  I say that based on the knowledge we have now of the event, thanks to TMZ getting a hold of the video.  I know that a lot of people were outraged by the almost frivolous nature of the punishment that was doled out, especially when compared to the very harsh penalties that repeat substance abuse offenders were experiencing.  While I agree it was too light, even before we saw the video, I think there was a few things that influenced Goodell’s decision that are often over looked or trivialized by those discussing this whole cluster fuck. (and yeah i know i’m about to make some assumptions in the face of gaps of knowledge and that I had just mentioned how that shouldn’t be done, but in this case I’m not trying to input my thoughts, but instead trying to place myself in someone else’s shoes and give them some measure of benefit of doubt.)

When Goodell imposed the two game suspension and half million dollar fine (i think that was the amount) I think he probably wanted to give him a harsher sentence but didn’t for the following reasons:

  • Janay and Ray were still together and there was treatment/counselling going on.
  • The District attorney (or what ever law/justice people) only gave Ray a slap on the wrist which would imply that whatever occurred in the elevator couldn’t have been as sever as what we later found out.
  • The story he heard from Ray and Janay gave off at least some semblance of a mental picture where Janay had started the fight and that maybe she was out of control and that Ray did not do a good enough job of trying to restrain his fiance.
  • Both parties were very drunk judging by the 2 bottles of hard liquor between 4 people earlier in the night and maybe the inebriation played a role in how quickly and totally incapacitated Janay was in the video outside the elevator.
  • If Goodell pushed too hard in punishing Rice, would the raven’s and the players union push back. Would the players association try to fight it, especially if their player is claiming to be innocent.

Also, I highly doubt that he saw the video from inside the elevator.  If he had seen it, there was no reason to lie and say he didn’t.  I can’t think of any reason why he would view the video and only give a two game suspension.  I know there are lot of talks of a cover up, but i’m not sure exactly what people thinks Goodell would have been covering up at that time he supposedly saw the video.  There is nothing special about Rice that would make him want to protect him.  If he had seen it he would have known that it was possible if not probable that the video would get out so why go so soft on the punishment?  The idea that he saw the video and for some reason acted the way he did makes no sense to me.

I think either the NFL never got the video, or if someone there did get it as the associated press is reporting they did, then it wasn’t forwarded to Goodell for some random reason, probably incompetence. As far as journalistic integrity goes, I would rank the AP way above TMZ, but even still I kind of have my misgivings about their report. I guess i’m just a little jaded by this point.

With all the outstanding issues I listed above, I still think that even if Goodell thought that 2 games was the fairest punishment given the extenuating circumstance, he still should have given a lengthier suspension knowing that it would send a stronger message and that there would still be avenues for Rice to appeal through the players union if he wanted to fight the length.

So yes I think Goodell messed up in this regard. I’m not sure it is enough to warrant him being fired, especially since he admitted he screwed up later and amended the policy for domestic abuse to fall in line with something most people agreed is a pretty good set of punishments.

uggghhhhhh this is a long post. This is actually day 2 of me randomly adding and editing this post as I find time to work on it, so if you are actually reading it; Good for you.

Earlier today it was reported that Adrienne Peterson was indicted on child beating (not the actual name of the charge) and that he is turning himself in to the texas authorities.  He has admitted to using a switch (thin tree limb specifically used for hitting children) to punish his kid, and says that is how he was punished when he was a kid.  There are also text messages he sent to the child’s mother where he said he felt guilty about how much pain the switch had caused. So things aren’t looking good for him.  Since he is headed down to texas for booking he has been deactivated for this sunday by the vikes.

It will be interested to see if the people who are clamoring for Ray Mcdonald and Greg Hardy to be suspended while their cases are still in the legal process, will call for Peterson to also be suspended while the case is making its way through the legal system.  I know there are difference between someone going overboard disciplining their kid and someone beating their wife because they can’t control their anger, but I don’t feel comfortable trying to analyse those difference to determine if one deserves more swift and sever punishment than the other in either our legal system or the NFL self policing system.



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