Is the Ray Rice Incident a Watershed Moment on Domestic Violence?

16 Sep 2014

James BrownThe video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée Janay Palmer unconscious and dragging her from a casino elevator has by now gone viral.  The first sin was the violence itself.  The second sin was the NFL attempting to dismiss it by issuing a Rice paltry two-game suspension as “punishment,” bringing into sharp focus how we still minimize vile and violent behavior toward women in this country.

There is now much hemming and hawing about what NFL Commissioner Goodell knew and when he and his associates knew it.  Even if you only saw the portion of the video with Rice dragging Palmer from an elevator like a sack of potatoes, leaving her laying there, would that not raise a red flag?  It strains credulity that they were not aware of, did not see or have the violent footage that preceded it (given that this happened seven months ago), so let’s just assume as intelligent people that they had the whole picture and thought they could get away with a slap on the wrist for one of the Ravens’ star players.

Enter James Brown, long time anchor for CBS NFL coverage, who offered the most powerful remarks yet addressing Ray Rice’s domestic abuse, challenging not only the NFL but every listener to stop looking the other way on the treatment of women and the issue of domestic violence.  Please watch:

Here also is a transcript of his remarks:

Two years ago I challenged the NFL community and all men to seriously confront the problem of domestic violence, especially coming on the heels of the murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs football player Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins. Yet, here we are again dealing with the same issue of violence against women.

Now let’s be clear, this problem is bigger than football. There has been, appropriately so, intense and widespread outrage following the release of the video showing what happened inside the elevator at the casino. But wouldn’t it be productive if this collective outrage, as my colleagues have said, could be channeled to truly hear and address the long-suffering cries for help by so many women? And as they said, do something about it? Like an ongoing education of men about what healthy, respectful manhood is all about.

And it starts with how we view women. Our language is important. For instance, when a guy says, ‘You throw the ball like a girl’ or ‘You’re a little sissy,’ it reflects an attitude that devalues women and attitudes will eventually manifest in some fashion. Women have been at the forefront in the domestic violence awareness and prevention arena. And whether Janay Rice considers herself a victim or not, millions of women in this country are.

Consider this: according to domestic violence experts, more than three women per day lose their lives at the hands of their partners. That means that since the night February 15th in Atlantic City [when the elevator incident occurred], more than 600 women have died.

So this is yet another call to men to stand up and take responsibility for their thoughts, their words, their deeds and as Deion [Sanders] says to give help or to get help, because our silence is deafening and deadly.

Bravo to James Brown for putting this is such stark terms.  To his point about the types of verbiage we use today that objectify women, words may not feel like violence, but in fact, they are.

HBO’s Bill Maher has called Sarah Palin a “c*nt” and a “dumb twat”  that “should be splayed out on the hood of a car.” Maher also said: “They fined CBS a million dollars for Janet Jackson’s nipple.  Just think what they could get for Hillary Clinton’s c*nt.”

What racist or homophobic version of such commentary would not get a person fired? When we refer to women as “b*tch” and “ho” and worse – is this also not a form of hate speech?

By reducing women to body parts, we also dehumanize them and make violence against them seem less real or consequential.

This is not about political correctness but understanding that respect or the lack thereof for half of our population is translated in many ways.  Violent words and disrespectful, objectifying behavior certainly breeds an environment where violence against women is tolerated and swept under the rug.

The behavior of the NFL was so egregious, Congress has now gotten involved.  In an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press last Sunday, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand raised the prospect of hearings being held if the NFL continues to demonstrate they are not capable of policing themselves.

While this shocking videotaped incident gives us the opportunity for a watershed moment on domestic violence, and other women who have been in this predicament have come forward to share their stories, this issue is not about “well, why didn’t she just leave?”  There are a number of reasons women stay in abusive relationships, not the least of which are shame, fear, a lack of resources or support, or loss of self-esteem from years of browbeating and physical violence.  The Rice incident creates a venue for women to speak out and hopefully get away from such a situation.  Yet the responsibility to stop violence still rests with the abuser.

By no means is such behavior restricted to the NFL.  We live in a society that glamorizes the actions of celebrities, whether they are pop stars, rappers, basketball players, actors – or football players. Their violent behavior must not be tolerated as this sets a horrid example for young men who would make their idols into role models, emulating the same violent, disrespectful treatment of women.

As Mr. Brown also pointed out, several women every day are killed by their partners.  Isn’t it high time that we start connecting the dots?

I guess that’s more consistent with the way Washington operates but I don’t know how useful a message that is to the rest of us.

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Anita Finlay is the bestselling author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin.  Sharing the untold story of Hillary’s 2008 campaign, Dirty Words exposes media sexism in a society not as evolved as advertised.  “The book tells it like it is for women aspiring to power.”  #1 on Amazon’s Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.

Like Anita Finlay, Author on Facebook.

Follow @AnitaFinlay on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. […] Even though the NFL seemed backed into a corner and had to hand out more severe punishment than its initially lenient “two game suspension,” it remains to be seen whether this subject will occupy a few more news cycles and then fade into the background, or if this is a watershed moment. […]

  2. […] Even though the NFL seemed backed into a corner and had to hand out more severe punishment than its initially lenient “two game suspension,” it remains to be seen whether this subject will occupy a few more news cycles and then fade into the background, or if this is a watershed moment. […]

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