Thursday, September 11, 2014

The NFL and Moral Authority

I think what Ray Rice did was wrong. You probably do too. Most of the country does—wife (or fiancee, or any woman) beating is not a moral outlier that people are divided on. And I understand that Ray Rice most likely violated the NFL Code of Conduct, which he is contracutally bound to obey. So the NFL is on solid legal footing. But where does the NFL get the moral authority to suspend Ray Rice? They're obviously imposing a moral standard here—wife beating is bad, you're a wife beater, therefore you are bad and can't play in the NFL—but where does the NFL get such authority in the first place? What is their moral standard?

It's interesting that in a society with such perceived moral subjectivity, there's a lot of moral absolutes being thrown around and imposed upon people. What is Roger Goodell's moral framework, and why can he impose that moral framework on the players? Is anyone asking these questions? Countless drug offenders, weapons offenders, absentee fathers, and the like are free to play in the NFL with impunity. Ray Rice cold cocks his fiancee and is banned indefinitely? What gives? Excuse me if I raise an eyebrow at this newly found moral uprightness when, to my knowledge, the NFL has done zero to stem the tide of abortions and deadbeat dads that plague the players' personal lives. 

If the NFL truly cared about what was right and wrong and just, a million things would have happened to other players before Ray Rice was suspended, but they didn't. And the NFL's silence on a host of issues within the league is an indictment on the NFL that it doesn't care about right, wrong, truth, or justice, but about what will make the NFL look good right now. It's not about integrity, it's about self-preservation. 

This leaves me a bit confused, but hopeful. The actions of Roger Goodell show that the NFL is looking out for itself and its image. Ray Rice's public conduct made the NFL look bad, so Ray Rice has got to go. All those players behind on child support and abdicating their fatherly duties? Those are less public, so those guys can stay. Michael Sam? We better not say that his sexual expression is wrong; we shouldn't impose our morality on players. The confusion lies in the arbitrary and capricious selection of which moral standards will be objective (applied and imposed on others) versus subjective (left to the whim of the person). How are we to know what the standard is and whether is applies to everyone? 

On the other hand, the public's response shows that society demands an objective moral standard. This is good news, because it means we need to have a conversation about what that objective moral standard is or ought to be. Moral relativism in its pure form will not withstand the demands society has placed upon it. That house is in ruins. What will we build in its place? Now is the time to be talking about it.




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