Months ago, I predicted Ray Rice’s permanent suspension from the NFL would be overturned. Does anyone doubt that he will play pro ball again? If the NFL didn’t want Rice back, would we see a continuation of the Janay Rice apology/justification/Ray-habilitation tour broadcast by none other than The Today Show?
In the rush to stage this mea culpa, we risk losing focus on the video of the actual incident, wherein Janay slapped Ray and Ray then punched Janay’s lights out. Should she have slapped him? No. Does that in any way mitigate or excuse what Ray Rice did? Absolutely not. This man is a football player, built of steel. He knocked her unconscious. What if she slammed her head into the elevator wall? Do we want to contemplate what might have happened? Setting aside the violence for the moment, the immediate aftermath is just as disturbing.
His then-fiancée, presumably the love of his life, was unconscious. Rice dragged her out of the elevator like a sack of potatoes. He stood over her and left her on the floor, even nudging her body with his foot. At bottom, Mr. Rice’s behavior was remorseless and disrespectful. At the least, he seemed not to be in touch with reality. He made no attempt to see if she needed a doctor but just kept half lifting and dropping her back onto the floor. Why is he not being questioned about these actions? That, in my view, is just as bad as his knocking her out.
Why is Ray Rice not being grilled by every single media outlet and having that tape played over and over? Why is he not asked to comment about dragging Janay’s limp body out of an elevator and leaving her on the ground? Can that possibly have been a one time lapse? Why did he apologize to his fans and his team at a press conference, but not to her? If it didn’t even occur to him to say those words out loud to his wife in front of a national audience, what does that indicate about his level of respect for her? This man is 27 years old. He should not require a script to figure this out, whether he was nervous at the time or not.
Why is the burden once again on the wife to answer for her husband’s abuse, leaving us to try to make sense of why a woman would stay with a man who would treat her this way?
Look at how much effort is focused on repairing Rice’s image, making Janay somehow complicit. Aside from his finally apologizing in an interview with Matt Lauer, Mr. Rice has been hiding behind his wife for months. Janay Rice has done interviews in an effort to clean up her husband’s mess, presumably in the hopes that he will be rehired by the NFL. Mrs. Rice admitted as much to Today host Matt Lauer when she said that her initial apology for “her role in this incident” was made to help his career and that the NFL put those words in her mouth. If true, that alone should have everyone boycotting them.
Once again, the bulk of media attention is being focused on the victim and not the perpetrator. Many focus blame on Janay Rice for not leaving the man she has been with since she was 14 years old. It is simplistic to say she doesn’t want to lose her “meal ticket.” Or she’s “stupid for staying and deserves what she gets.” If this relationship is all she has ever known, who can say what that relationship is behind closed doors.
Regardless of how the rest of Ray and Janay Rice’s marriage plays out, this incident forces us to look at the reality of domestic violence. The focus should not be on “why does she stay with him?” The focus should be “how do we make him stop?”
Something is wrong with the abuser. Not the abused.
Having viewed abusive relationships up close, I can tell you that the male often tells the female “you are worthless, you are nothing without me, you are stupid, you are ugly, you are fat, you don’t do anything right, no one else would want you, I don’t like your friends. They are bad for you.” If you hear that in subtle and overt ways day in and year out, over time, you begin to believe it. As the saying goes, “A ghost knows who to scare.”
Violence often accompanies such insults.
On December 2nd, Football executive and former NFL player Troy Vincent gave painful and emotional testimony before a Senate committee on domestic violence. “Commissioners of the four major national sports leagues” were notably absent. While looking to convince the panel that the NFL was cleaning up its act in this regard, Mr. Vincent shared his own horrific childhood experiences, watching his mother get beaten unconscious by his father. Growing up with violence, both the abused and the abuser likely see this as a normal part of daily life.
This would not be the first time such violence has been committed by sports figures who are idolized. Yet judging by NFL behavior, first attempting to treat Ray Rice’s behavior as a public relations problem, then backpedaling when all the video was revealed, I am dubious that anything will change, despite Mr. Vincent’s honorable and heartfelt intentions.
PBS recently reported this staggering fact:
“Approximately 1,500 women are killed each year by husbands or boyfriends. About 2 million men per year beat their partners, according to the F.B.I.”
Make that 1,501. On Thanksgiving day, Cornell University student Shannon Jones was murdered by her boyfriend Benjamin Cayea. Cayea admitted to strangling her, saying the following:
“She would not stop coming at me, she would not stop yelling. I did it, I choked her.”
The shocking nature of this and so many other crimes brings into sharp focus how far we still have to go to bring about an end to domestic violence.
PBS further reported:
“Most experts say there is no one profile of men who batter or beat women. Domestic violence crosses all social and economic boundaries. According to Dr. Susan Hanks, Director of the Family and Violence Institute in Alameda, California, men batter because of internal psychological struggles. Usually, men who batter are seeking a sense of power and control over their partners or their own lives, or because they are tremendously dependent on the woman and are threatened by any moves on her part toward independence.”
And for those who blame the woman and say “why doesn’t she just leave the bum?”:
“Women are at highest risk of injury or violence when they are separating from or divorcing a partner.”
Until we realize that the relentless focus of abuse has to be on the perpetrator and the ‘why’ of his actions, instead of running to “rehabilitate” his image before the behavior is punished and/or solved, any statements made by abusers are likely to be little more than contrite, staged sound bites and the behavior will continue unabated.
As to Mrs. Rice’s claims that this knockout punch was a one-time happening, ask any woman who lives with an abusive man if once is the limit. And sometimes, it only takes once. If your “first offense” is to knock a person unconscious, that does not bode well.
If society at large is so anxious to “reform” the man while putting pressure on the woman to forgive him or clean up his image, we sweep the problem under the rug. In such scenarios, how likely is rehabilitation or genuine amends?
When do women get to stop being punching bags? And when do we stop blaming the victim?
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.
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