Ray Rice, False Ignorance and the “New Privacy”

Ray Rice, False Ignorance and the “New Privacy”

As fallout from the Ray Rice fiasco continues to tarnish the reputation of everyone it touches, let’s take inventory of the lessons so far.

Steven A. Adelman

First, a brief factual summary. The story broke in February that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was recorded dragging his unconscious fiancé out of an Atlantic City casino elevator. The February 15, 2014, lobby video irrefutably showed that something had happened inside that elevator to render her unconscious. After conducting what it told the public was its due diligence, the National Football League imposed a two-game suspension. This perceived slap on the wrist was met with immediate and widespread public criticism, but the NFL stood firm on the punishment. On September 9, we saw the release of a video, shot from inside the elevator, that showed exactly how Ray Rice’s now-wife became unconscious. The league and the Ravens reversed course, suspending him from play and terminating his team contract.

Claiming ignorance is not a good strategy when everyone thinks you could have done more.

The league’s explanation for imposing a harsher penalty only now, i.e., that its requests for the footage from inside the elevator were denied by local police and prosecutors, seems pretty lame.

First, the claim that TMZ was able to acquire what Ray Rice’s employers could not is contrary to what many people believe about the mighty NFL, particularly since the league apparently never asked the casino for the footage.

Second, the original footage of Ray Rice dragging his fiancé out of the elevator did not leave much to the imagination. Really, what did anyone think had happened in there? Other than Ray Rice knocking his fiancé out in some manner or another, were there any alternative theories? Neither aspect of this ignorance defense looks good.

Lying is worse than claiming ignorance implausibly.

The story gets worse, and again the smoking gun is a recording. On September 10 the Associated Press reported that the NFL actually did have the footage from inside the elevator since early Spring. The confirmation of receipt comes from a preserved voicemail message from an NFL office number on April 9, 2014, in which a female voice expresses thanks and says, “You’re right. It’s terrible.” It will be hard for the league to walk back their previous explanations, and perhaps harder for the rest of us to watch them try. The court of public opinion is not likely to be kind this time.

There are few genuinely private actions anymore.

In 2014, elevator recordings of what the perpetrators doubtless thought were private actions appear to be an explosive new phenomenon.

  • In February, there was the original Ray Rice footage.

  • In May, Beyoncé’s sister Solange Knowles was captured beating up on Jay-Z in an elevator in New York.

  • Last month, the CEO of food and beverage concessionaire Centerplate was recorded kicking a dog in a Vancouver elevator, resulting in a storm of protest that cost him his job last week.

Really, though, what is new here? Professional athletes, entertainers, and captains of industry have always been public figures. Thanks to social media, many otherwise ordinary people choose to subject themselves to public scrutiny as well. The proliferation of smart phones and CCTV has exponentially shrunk our reasonable expectation of privacy. All of this change has brought us back to … small town America, where everyone knew everyone else’s business.

Thanks to modern technology, our own lust for celebrity, and the hubris of rich and powerful people to think they are above reproach, we have come full circle. For believers in privacy, it is time to face the new, old reality — that privacy isn’t what it used to be.