KU assistant prof weighs in on Ray Rice ‘spectacle’

A graduate-level instructor of courses such as sociology of sport, sport in the media and sports ethics at Kansas University, Jordan Bass has spent extensive hours researching the relationship between the public and athletics institutions.

The “whole spectacle” surrounding the NFL’s handling of Ray Rice’s suspension and the ensuing commotion regarding the punishment — and the leniency of it — has intrigued Bass, an assistant professor in KU’s Health, Sport and Exercise Sciences Department.

A Pro-Bowl running back for Baltimore, Rice received a two-game suspension from the NFL following a physical confrontation with his then-fiancee in February. The incident, which occurred at an Atlantic City casino, left Rice’s now-wife unconscious.

Soon after the league announced its punishment, public objection swelled, especially since the NFL regularly hands out harsher four-game bans for substance abuse.

Based on research recently published by Bass and two others in the International Sport Coaching Journal, the league’s administration should’ve seen this coming. The article details what they call “forced crowdsourcing” — when organizations can’t control what kind of buzz the public generates but are forced to react. Bass and his co-authors found “viral content” fuels public pressure on an establishment.

Security video footage of Rice dragging the unconscious body of his then-fiancee out of an elevator could be seen repeatedly via television, the internet and social media. Its existence, Bass said, helped rally the public against the wildly popular league.

“On the face of it, it looks really bad for the NFL,” Bass, the executive director of KU’s Laboratory for the Study of Sport Management, said, “just in the way that they’ve handled it, the way that public perception has built up, and they’ve really done little to refute that.”

Typically, Bass and his colleagues found, similar situations resulted in public pressure moving organizational action. Following Rutgers’ 2012-13 men’s basketball season, the article cited, video of coach Mike Rice throwing basketballs at players and using profanity surfaced on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” The coach, only suspended three games during the season when administration became aware of the video, was fired within 24 hours of the national broadcast.

As a supplementary example of the power of viral media, Bass said in an interview with the Journal-World, no comparable media exists of Carolina Pro-Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy attacking his ex-girlfriend. A judge found him guilty of domestic violence on July 15, and Hardy will appeal the verdict in court. According to a report from ESPN.com, a league spokesman said the NFL will monitor the situation before taking disciplinary action.

“I bet if you surveyed the majority of people,” Bass said, “they wouldn’t even know that case was going on.”

Despite the public backlash to the NFL’s ruling on Rice, Bass fears the NFL might be unique, compared to past incidents in his study, and too powerful to bother with responding. Commissioner Roger Goodell publicly defended the suspension this past weekend.

“Maybe the NFL is too big,” Bass said. “Maybe it’s too popular. Maybe people are going to watch the NFL, regardless.”