By LARRY WOODY
Having covered the NFL for three seasons in the 1980's, I'm aware of the thug mentality that hums like an electric current just beneath the surface of the league, but the recent Ray Rice cesspool is unsettling even for a cynical old sportswriter.
Pick your villain. There's plenty to go around.
(Caution: hold your nose and wear gloves -- they're all slimy and stink to high heaven.)
+ John Harbaugh. After seeing the initial stomach-turning video of Rice knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino on Feb. 15, the Ravens coach had the gall to call the vicious thug "a heck of a guy" and said he stood behind him.
Harbaugh has a wife, a daughter and a sister. If it had been one of them Rice beat senseless and dragged across a casino floor, would John would still consider the brute a "heck of a guy?"
Probably -- if Rice could help Harbaugh win a football game.
+ Ravens fans: They also consider the wife-beater a terrific guy, judging from the ovation they gave Rice when he pranced onto the field for a July practice session, waving and smiling.
Despicable, but not surprising! If Saddam Hussein were still around and could catch the long ball, NFL fans would cheer for him and wear Saddam's jerseys.
Amazing how scoring touchdowns can transform a criminal into a superstar.
+ Roger Goodell. The NFL commissioner finally upgraded Rice' initial two-game penalty to an indefinite suspension after the rest of the elevator video went public. It graphically shows the punch Rice threw to his girlfriend's face, knocking her out.
Two points, both of which make Goodell look either stupid, inept or untruthful -- maybe all:
Does anyone believe the NFL, with its vast investigative resources, tried to locate that video, yet failed while TMZ succeeded?
Second, what difference does seeing the actual punch make? How did Goodell and Harbaugh THINK Rice's fiancee ended up sprawled on the floor unconscious? Did they think she lost a pillow fight with her thug boyfriend?
Rice had already admitted he slugged her senseless. The rest of the stomach-wrenching video, showing him throwing the punch, simply confirmed what everybody knew had happened.
Either the NFL had seen the entire video and kept quiet, or else it made no effort to see it, and hoped no one else would, either.
Wonder what would have happened had a similarly-graphic video of Michael Vick surfaced, showing him torturing and killing those dogs? We'll never know. All we know is that Vick was eventually welcomed back by fawning fans. From sick-o to superstar...only in the NFL!
Janay Rice: After regaining consciousness, she married the brute that could have killed her.
Now Janay's outraged -- not at being beaten senseless, or being stupid/desperate/gold-digging enough to marry the hooligan who did it, but at the media for exposing it.
Janay is standing by her man -- at least until he decks her again.
Ray Rice: He's a poster boy for spousal abuse, a bully, a thug and a low-life.
But he's also a talented football player, and after the outrage subsides, look for Rice to suit up with another NFL team. Giddy fans will again cheer hooray for Ray.
After all, his former coach considered him a "heck of a guy," the commissioner tried to let him off with a wrist-slap, and his battered wife defends the brute.
Hey, it's not like he killed someone. Not yet.