People are visual learners. Without seeing something firsthand, we have difficulty understanding the severity of certain events. A simple retelling often fails to evoke an appropriate reaction, no matter how detailed the description. Proof of this tendency can be seen in the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal that has been unfolding recently.
Two videos were released by the gossip media outlet TMZ at separate times following the alleged attack. The first video showed Rice dragging the unconscious body of his then fiancée, Janay Palmer, out of an elevator in a casino. After the release of this video, it was speculated that Rice would miss at least three games. Given the content of the first video, it was evident that the couple had been in a physical altercation which left Palmer unconscious. The big question then is this, what evidence was the NFL missing to make a “proper” decision regarding Rice’s penalty?
The content of the second video only serves to highlight the severity of the attack, which is clearly implied by the fact that Palmer could not exit the elevator on her own two feet. After this video became public however, the NFL felt immediate pressure to increase the severity of Rice’s penalty by a substantial degree. Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League spoke to the media after the release of the video, stating of Rice’s penalty that “He did not get it right.” The crime had not changed, it was just on tape for the world to see, and that changes everything.
This “seeing is believing” effect raises other interesting questions about previous penalties handed down by the league. Take for example the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal. It seems highly unlikely that Vick would have ever taken another snap had his disturbing hobby been videotaped and shown publicly. Dog fighting is notoriously brutal. I thankfully have never witnessed it firsthand and for that reason, my perception of Vick’s crime is likely unrealistically positive.
This is not to say that we think kindly on dog fighting or domestic abuse, only that we have difficulty imagining the extent of the brutality involved until such acts are witnessed firsthand. When we consider the league’s disciplinary protocol from this perspective, it becomes hard to rationalize the eight game suspensions handed down for violations of recreational drug policy; five full games more than Rice was asked to sit for KO’ing his fiancée in public.