Any NFL team that hires Ray Rice in the next few months will get a little flack. But don’t be surprised if Rice makes a full comeback on the field and off.
Consider that just a few weeks ago, Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist and self-confessed wife batterer, was making small talk on the late night circuit about his sold-out one-man show, directed by Spike Lee. The show is based on his memoir, Undisputed Truth, which has lines like: “How do you rape someone when they come to your hotel at two in the morning? There’s nothing open that late but legs.” There was the fun game he played on Jimmy Fallon called “Punch Out.” And last year, there was much mirth with Chelsea Handler about his three years in prison, drug tests and conjugal visits. Tyson has also joked about “socking” his ex-wife Robin Givens. According to a biography by his former friend Jose Torres, Tyson said the “best punch” he ever threw was at Givens–it was so hard she “bounced off two different walls” and was knocked out cold. (It’s worth noting that the New York Times‘ Michiko Kakutani glossed over that abusive relationship, calling it a “tumultuous marriage,” in her review of Tyson’s book.)
The one journalist to refer to the fighter as a “convicted rapist” in a TV interview got a long profanity laced rant from Tyson who called him “negative” and “a piece of sh-t.” That reporter, a Canadian broadcaster, later apologized for hurting Tyson’s feelings. Undisputed truth indeed.
The moral calculus of who we shun and for how long is nothing short of perplexing. Let’s not forget that a decade of happy Jello salesmanship intervened since the last time Bill Cosby was caught up in a maelstrom of rape accusations. And what about Chris Brown who was convicted in 2009 for felony assault of his then-girlfriend Rihanna? Or actor Josh Brolin who was charged with spousal battery in in 2004? (His wife Diane Lane declined to press charges.) Neither man’s career seemed to lose much public momentum after those incidents. And there’s Sean Penn, who was charged with assault during his marriage to Madonna in 1988 and later pled to a lesser offense. Yes, there’s a huge difference between allegations, arrests and convictions, but those distinctions don’t seem to matter much when it comes to the vicissitudes of public opinion.
In Rice’s case, the main thing keeping him from total rehabilitation now that he’s been reinstated will likely be his recent lackluster playing record. Never mind the fact that half the planet has watched a video of him punching his then-fiance so hard he knocked her unconscious, then dragging her limp body, face down, out of an elevator.
America loves a good comeback.
TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email email@example.com.