Cynthia M. Allen: The NFL can learn from football coaches in Texas

Hours after a video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, punching his then-fiancee (now wife) and dragging her limp body out of a casino elevator, hit the Internet, his NFL team tweeted that Rice's contract had been terminated.

That seemed like a swift and appropriate response, even in the age of speedy social media.

Except that it wasn't.

Details of the assault had been known to the NFL, the Ravens and the public for months. The video was far from a revelation. (In fact, reports are surfacing that the NFL received the video footage in April.)

"That is what it looks like when a man beats up a woman," Amy Davidson of The New Yorker wryly concluded. As if witnessing the assault on grainy camera footage is what was required to make it real.


But when it comes to our beloved sports figures, sometimes, that is what it takes.

Admittedly, I'm no sports authority. But I'm an avid consumer of news, and it seems that a disproportionate number of college and professional athletes make news for all the wrong reasons — allegations of assaulting women chief among them — but don't seem to suffer much in the way of consequences.

Without the widespread publication of that elevator video, Ray Rice would have been the latest example.

While it's tempting to pile on the criticism of the Ravens and the NFL (not to mention the New Jersey law enforcement team that investigated the assault and allowed Rice to participate in a pretrial diversion program) for their flaccid response to the February attack (a two-game suspension), the problem of ignoring egregious player behavior often begins at the college level, where valuable recruits and promising prospects are too often treated with impunity whenever allegations and even proof of misconduct arise.

And when coaches and athletic directors protect players from prosecution and other consequences and fans continue to greet them with cheers in packed-out stadiums, should it surprise anyone that players think they are untouchable when they reach the NFL?

The case of last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, comes to mind. He was accused of sexually assaulting a classmate at Florida State University in 2012, and a local prosecutor declined to pursue criminal charges, claiming a lack of evidence. But that lack of evidence may have been due to what critics have suggested was a gross mishandling of the case by Tallahassee police, who reportedly warned the victim that she needed "to think long and hard about proceeding" with the case in a "big football town." Especially with Winston favored to win the pinnacle college football award and his team on its way to a national title.

Florida State only recently opened its own investigation, coincidentally after the federal government began looking into how the school and 76 others handle cases of sexual assault.

But for all the Florida States out there, some college sports programs are trying harder to get it right. And it should come as a nice surprise that at least two of these schools are in Texas.


Charlie Strong, the new coach at the University of Texas at Austin, has made his Core Values well-known: honesty, treat women with respect, no drugs, no stealing and no guns. Even in his inaugural season, he has not hesitated to summarily dismiss or suspend at least eight players who have violated them and other team rules, two of whom are facing sexual assault charges.

In Fort Worth, TCU football coach Gary Patterson did not delay in dismissing star player Devonte Fields, who surrendered to authorities after a domestic dispute that allegedly involved his punching and pointing a gun at an ex-girlfriend. And school officials upheld the suspension, making Fields academically ineligible for a one-time transfer waiver to another school, significantly hampering his chances of playing college football again.

The swift response of both Texas coaches contrasts starkly to the bungling of the Rice case by the NFL. And it sends a clear message that off-the-field misconduct — even by the most talented players — won't go overlooked or unpunished.

And it's a lesson the NFL appears to be learning the hard way.

Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

What To Read Next
Get Local