Seeing is Feeling – How Video Shapes Public Opinion

Ray Rice was caught on video assaulting his fiancé and has since been cut by his team, suspended indefinitely, and become a pariah. Greg Hardy was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend in July and he is quietly playing football with the Carolina Panthers as if nothing happened. Donald Sterling, due to a number of lawsuits and allegations over the years, was widely believed to be a racist, but he managed to be an owner for 30 years with virtually no complaints from any of the players or NBA executives. But when he was caught on tape telling his girlfriend that he did not want her going to games with black people, the NBA and the general public were outraged and he was forced to sell his team.

We always knew that Ray Rice knocked out his fiancé in that elevator, which was why there was a negative reaction to the original 2 game suspension. The NFL, after listening to all the criticism over the 2 game suspension, changed its policy so that in the future, a player would receive a six game suspension for domestic abuse. Then when the second Ray Rice video was released showing us exactly what we already knew, the NFL then suspended Rice indefinitely. Many have pointed out that it seems the real reason why Rice’s suspension is so long is that he happened to be caught on tape.

Leaving aside the discussion of what would have been an appropriate punishment for Ray Rice, it is intriguing how much more outrage the public feels when they actually see the incident with their own eyes. It is important to keep in mind that this is not a case where the video clarified guilt or innocence; we always knew that Rice assaulted his fiancé in that elevator and then dragged her out like a sack of potatoes. It was seeing it that caused the outrage.

The lesson I take from all of this is not simply that people are hypocrites, but rather that people may need to something with their own eyes before they truly know their opinion of it. Maybe people should hold off on forming strong opinions on something until they have seen it with their own eyes. How many supporters of the death penalty would have the same position if they had to watch prisoners being executed? On the flipside, how many people who typically favor leniency and early parole for convicts would feel the same way if they were forced to watch the actual violent crimes that were committed?

The same people that are now outraged over Ray Rice’s original two game suspension and calling for Roger Goodell’s head never batted an eye over the years as one player after another was convicted of domestic abuse and didn’t face a single game suspension. Those stories just faded into the background just like all those nightly stories on Ebola outbreaks, civil wars, famines, and child poverty reports. We hear the stories, conceptually we agree they are terrible, and then we clean up the dishes.

Over the past year we heard stories about this group in Syria that were so violent even Al Qaeda disowned them, but collectively we just shrugged off the thousands of deaths until we saw a video of a hostage being barbarically beheaded. Now we are going to war with them. If ISIS had massacred an entire village of 10,000 people that day instead of posting the video footage of killing that journalist, they would not be the target airstrikes right now. If Greg Hardy’s assault had been videotaped instead of Ray Rice’s, Hardy would be suspended and Rice would be playing football this weekend. Seeing isn’t just believing, seeing is feeling.