Ray Rice, the NFL, and Our Willful Blindness

None of us know the heart of hearts, especially and even our own hearts.

The ancient wisdom is that the heart is deceitful above all things. We lie to ourselves about ourselves, perniciously and with profound, far-reaching and destructive consequences. All of us, all day long.

I have no new insight on the Ray Rice story. Like many, I watched the video of him knocking his wife unconscious, a blow to her brain that left her senseless on the floor of the elevator. In every way it is tragic.

Of all that I have read, this essay by Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post argues that the NFL is guilty of “willful blindness.” It did not want to see because it did want not to be responsible.

“If NFL executives and Baltimore Ravens staff had never seen that tape before, there are only two reasons: willful blindness, and the determination to maintain plausible deniability. Two NFL analysts with reputations for impeccable sources, Peter King of Sports Illustrated and Chris Mortensen of ESPN, were told months ago the league had to have seen the tape. Ray Rice’s own attorney had a copy of it. It simply defies belief that league and team officials couldn’t have seen it if they wanted to.”

If they wanted to…. But for tragically complex reasons of the heart, they didn’t want to.

“Want” is the important word. We are choosers, primordially. At the heart of our humanity is our responsibility, as the wisest ones have always taught. From Augustine on through Havel, “the secret of man is the secret of his responsibility.” We are able to respond, responsible.

We have eyes, but will we see? That is one of the most important of all questions, and because it is, it is the matter of the “will” that is critical. Most of the time we choose — and “choose” is the operative word — to not see, because we don’t want to have to deal with the implications. Eons ago, the apostle Paul put it this way, “We know, but we don’t want to know—and so we suppress what we know.”

I am a horribly frail man. I have no deeper insight into Ray Rice and Roger Goodell than anyone else. Clayfooted we all are, shamefully so. But the truth matters — especially if we are truthful enough to own the ancient wisdom, i.e. that our first temptation is always to lie to ourselves about ourselves, willfully blind as we are.

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