DETROIT - The final outcome of this sordid Ray Rice affair is now official: Everyone loses.
From the moment Rice struck the woman he eventually would marry and knocked her unconscious, to Rice's attempts to drag her out of the elevator, to Roger Goodell's inadequate two-game suspension and, finally, to the horrifying video evidence that leaves no doubt about how gruesome the confrontation was, this will go down as one of the NFL's darkest chapters.
The biggest loser, of course, is Rice himself. Despite an admirable body of work doing community service for the people of Baltimore, Rice undid all that good with one clenched fist to Janay Palmer's face.
Until the video surfaced on TMZ.com, Rice had virtually unconditional support from the Ravens' organization and most of his teammates. But you have to wonder now whether that support stemmed in large measure from Rice's own false narrative. Reports surfaced shortly after his arrest in February that Palmer had threatened him in the elevator and that Rice's actions might have been at least partially in self-defense.
But no one can justify Rice's actions after watching that video. Yes, Palmer was walking toward him, but not in a manner that suggested she would physically overpower him. But Rice reacted by delivering a devastating blow to her face, sending her into the wall of the elevator and rendering her unconscious.
Rice might get another chance to play again, just like other NFL players who have misbehaved in awful ways -- see Michael Vick coming back to the NFL after being involved in a dogfighting ring in which he and several associates murdered underperforming dogs.
But it will never be the same for Rice if he does come back; he will forever be associated with the punch that set off a sequence of events that continues to reverberate with devastating consequences.
But Rice is far from the only loser here.
The team that had been unwavering in its support of the running back also is culpable. The Ravens failed to get to the bottom of the situation and went out of their way to shield Rice from public scrutiny and criticism.
Coach John Harbaugh struck an awkward and uncomfortable note in late July when he said of Rice's suspension: "It's not a big deal, it's just part of the process. There are consequences when you make a mistake like that.''
"I stand behind Ray. He's a heck of a guy. He's done everything right since. He makes a mistake, all right? He's going to have to pay a consequence. I think that's good for kids to understand it works that way. That's how it works, that's how it should be."
Not a big deal? Just part of the process? A mistake?
No. It was a very big deal, and it was not just a mistake. It was a criminal act.
The other big loser is Goodell. He blew it with the two-game suspension, even without the benefit of seeing the video from inside the elevator. The NFL said no one in the league office saw the TMZ.com video until Monday, but TMZ says it has proof that the league was aware of the video showing Rice's fiancee being injured.A two-game suspension after all that?
Goodell's mea culpa on Aug. 28 included plenty of apologies for his watered-down discipline, and the fact that his misstep led to a more meaningful policy on domestic abuse was about the only good thing to come out of it. Even so, Goodell's credibility is on the line. Many people simply don't trust him after this, and he needs to earn that trust back by reacting more appropriately with future cases of domestic abuse.
There are two incidents pending. Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend and threatening to kill her, and 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested this month on domestic violence charges. There are no known videos of those attacks, but it shouldn't matter. Goodell needs to deliver a strong message with his disciplinary decisions.
One punch. One vicious punch, and all that fallout that came after.
Everybody loses here. Everybody.