A Tale of Two Videos: Tony Stewart & Ray Rice

Tony Stewart will not face charges on the murder, the vehicular homicide or the accidental death of Kevin Ward, Jr.

I’ve lost all hope in humanity.

The American justice system has failed yet again. I can only surmise Eric Holder’s recently announced resignation comes as a result of the inaction by officials to hold yet another a popular white “athlete” accountable for his crimes (see: Duke Lacrosse team, Oscar Pistorius, baseball players).

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Two weeks ago, the last apparent last bastion of the fourth estate TMZ released a video of Ray Rice shamelessly knocking out his then-fiancé Janay Palmer.

Once revered as maybe the top running back in the world, Rice’s career as it stands appears unredeemable. The Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice’s contract, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. The NFL Players Association has since appealed on his behalf, sighting tired (but unfortunately, most likely true) slippery slope, two punishments for one crime arguments.

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On August 9th in upstate New York a 43-year old man driving a 1400 pound vehicle at a speeds of nearly 140 miles per hour hit a 20-year man—a boy really. The young man with a long, bright future ahead of him died, almost immediately. It was caught on tape.

One would hope—given the above circumstances—that the full weight of the law and public reaction would fall on the culprit. One would imagine that said culprit would be collapse under the pressure, a charged and convicted criminal as the world celebrates the triumph of justice.

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So here we are. The NFL is the midst of a once-in-a-generation scandal. Employees are answering to the former Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (the goddamn Director of the F-B-goddamn-I!), turning over communications, cataloging steps taken and not taken in an investigation completed or not completed. Even Commissioner Roger Goodell—the shoot-first sheriff, self-proclaimed judge and jury of the NFL when he ascended to power—finds himself in the unusual position of target practice.

Rice is at fault, and the NFL and Goodell screwed everything to hell.

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There is a video that shows Ward’s murder. It wasn’t shown on ESPN or your local news, because it’s a video of someone dying (as if all that war footage of rockets firing and landing on nightly network news weren’t). Watch it here—if you can bear it.

The 43-year old man—Stewart, let’s be painfully clear—is free. He woke up this morning to a loving family, doting fans, a dedicated racing team and a job that he loves.

Ward will never get a chance to realize the NASCAR dreams Stewart shamelessly tried preserved in his all-too-early return to the track.

But more than that, Ward will never get to find and marry the love of his life, to swell with pride as he watches his children stumble and get back up, to grow old and see the world change. Ward will never get to turn the ignition or choke the throttle of his beat up no. 13, joke around with his team or get angry at his opponents, relish in victory or rise again from a loss.

Ward graduated from high school two years ago. Two years ago. And will remain fixed in his family’s memory an eternal 20-year old.

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The institution of the NFL has been turned inside out—and rightfully so—for countless reasons. Among these include: the culture of violence that has been absorbed by the players’ family members for years, the countless players facing even more countless charges of violent crimes and the apparent cover-up (or shameful ineptitude, if you’re an optimist) of the Rice incident—only the most recent indication of the NFL’s unspoken mandate to “protect the shield.”

Despite all this, last Sunday came and went. Hundreds of thousands of fans across the country flocked to their football meccas and millions tuned in at home. Billions of dollars were made in salary and advertising revenue. The testament of sport.

It would be pretentious, and in many ways wrong, to call for a boycott of the NFL—and not just because it would never happen. After all, most football players are by-and-large good people (I think) who understand that they’re not actually allowed to pulverize other people off the field.

I would hope that recent events have disrupted fandom—at least for a blip—causing unease and skepticism. There has been some reporting on this, but not nearly enough.

Football is good. Ray Rice is bad. And the NFL fucked up.

End scene.

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Ray Rice knocked someone unconscious—his partner nonetheless. He may never face judge or a jury, but he is being punished—by the league he belonged to, the team he was a part of and the American public at large.

Tony Stewart Killed a person. Where’s the indignation? Why hasn’t ESPN rushed to Ward’s aide with hours of outraged Olbermanns and Wilbons?

When we were talking about Ward’s death—for that brief two week period that quickly was swept under the rug the moment Stewart gloriously returned to the race track to bravely not lose his position in the Sprint cup race—we seemed to shy away from what actually happened. Our headlines never used the words like “killed” or “fatally struck.” Instead it was an unfortunate accident that happened to an unfortunately young person.

“…an on-track accident that left 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. dead.”

“…he was involved in an incident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.”

“Kevin Ward Jr.’s death…”

“A sprint car racing incident involving NASCAR driver Tony Stewart left another driver with fatal injuries…”

It’s no wonder that Stewart got away with murder. Our verbs hid him from the truth of it. I don’t know yet if that was for his sake or ours. Both are infuriating reasons.

Accidents and death are part of the machismo of racing. I get it. But Ward didn’t die in an accident. He died after an accident—when Stewart’s right front tire clipped Ward, throwing him in the air like a rag doll. As for machismo, the NFL certainly doesn’t lack in it, and they’ve still managed to hold individuals to a modicum of accountability—no matter how disjointed and backwards-ass the path is to get there.

Stewart Killed a person. It’s on tape. I’m still waiting for the Fury of God’s Own Thunder.