We’re a funny group, us human beings. Get us in a group, add a little passion, and there’s almost always a wave of mass irrationalness that seems to sweep over everyone. Dogs and cats, living together…mass hysteria!

Sometimes its irrational attacks  for the slightest of perceived offenses. Other times, it might be dogged defense of someone, no matter how the evidence stacks up against them. In a group, people don’t worry about looking foolish. They just worry about winning.

It’s crazy.

It’s illogical.

But, most of all, its predictable.

Talk about politics or religion, and you’re certain to find these kinds of irrational responses taking place on a very regular basis. You can easily predict someone’s response to nearly any situation if they are passionately invested in their belief system. They might go on the offense. They might go on the defense. But there’re going somewhere, and the more like-minded folks they have around them, the less likely it is they’re coming back anytime soon.

But the recent video of Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancee in an elevator, knocking her out, and dragging her out unconscious has set off a firestorm among football fans, the media, and…well, all the not-passionate folks, too. You see, we knew all these details before, long before. We actually had the video of Rice dragging her out of the elevator, and we knew what had happened prior.

But what followed, in the world of passionate sports fans, was completely predictable. Fans rose to the defense of their superstar running back. Franchise owners invested in the success of the team debated whether the story was true or not. Those who spoke out against Rice as an abuser were decried as shrill sirens whining in the night.

And in the end, Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, gave Rice a mere two-game suspension and called it a day, to the chagrin of many fans and most onlookers. Many gave Goodell the third degree for being soft on a guy they called a woman-beater. But, as the season started, it was forgotten, if not accepted.

Goodell isn’t Solomon. He’s a politician. He responded to the loudest voices in his room, which were his customers and his investors. In the end, his decision wasn’t a reflection of himself as much as it was a reflection of us.

It’s something weird about sports fans in general. Sometimes the most egregious offenses we can imagine are forgiven, asked to be brushed aside….once. You only need to take a close look at the case of Milwaukee Brewer Ryan Braun. In his first brush with controversy, the Wisconsin media and fans defended him and his honor. We knew he didn’t cheat. He’s Ryan Braun. And he’s the MVP. And we need him. So he couldn’t cheat. And even if he did, it doesn’t matter. He’s Ryan Braun.

When he got off his initial charge of doping, on what even his most ardent defenders had to admit was some pretty unusual circumstances, we all accepted it. Time to move on, we thought. Yaaaaaaay, Ryan Braun.

That is, until he did it again. Fool me once, well, we’ll let you get away with it. But fool me twice? Wait, why did we need a second time for the exact same thing? I guess we were wrong all along. Serve your suspension, Braun.

Heck, you can go through the history of any sports teams and find examples of this. James Lofton, former Green Bay Packers, was accused of sexual assault back in 1984. Packer fans lined up in his defense, and eventually, the charges were dropped due to a “lack of evidence”.

Sound familiar?

But two years later, his far more infamous accusation of sexual assault soured the Packer faithful. Even though he was found not guilty of the charge, Lofton was traded to the Oakland Raiders for a few draft picks. Yet, why didn’t he suffer this jettison from the Frozen Tundra two years earlier? The first incident rarely comes up as a blip in a Google search, yet at the time, there was a “he couldn’t have done it” mindset, even in a time before the internet, Twitter, and Facebook.

I mean, the dude invented the high-five with John Jefferson. How could he have done something like that?

Fool Me Once…

Perhaps rather than focusing on the crimes and violations of the people we regard as heroes in the sports world, it might be a more shadowy path to take a good look at the psyche of those who support them. Viking fans spent years mocking Brett Favre for his interceptions and stumbles with addiction, yet when he wore a different jersey, they were willing to look past anything he might have done with Jen Sterger if he was able to help them win.

Caustic comments about the immaturity of Viking fans in general aside, its a case study in the complete irrationalness that comes with being a passionate sports fan. Concepts like forgiveness and exoneration are purely relative to how much a player is beloved/hated.

The video of Ray Rice didn’t add anything to the story upon which “judgement had passed upon”. It merely gave us a video of what we already knew happened. But because we (and by we, I mean those that rose up in defense of Rice) gave him his “Get Out of Jail Free” card, it seemed new. It seemed like it was another offense, when it was simply damning evidence for what was already known.

So, the question shouldn’t be whether Rice deserves his suspension, or whether the Ravens were right in releasing him.

The question shouldn’t be whether Goodell is running an organization that encourages violence and is too afraid to rock the boat.

The real question should be: if that video had been made available months ago, would Ray Rice still have only been suspended for two games? Despite the preponderance of evidence leading to what would clearly be video footage of what we already knew, what that still have been under his “first offense” grace period? Would he, like Ryan Braun and James Lofton, have people in his corner speaking on his behalf, coming up with stories as to why he should somehow be given a mere slap on the wrist?

My guess: yes.

Because its predictable.

Because human beings, mixed with passion in large groups, are predictably irrational.

And that is a much bigger problem than one incident in an elevator.


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