In February of this year, NFL star Ray Rice was arrested for assault after knocking his then-fiancée unconscious in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino. This morning, TMZ posted the video of the incident online, causing outrage on social media.
I’ll be honest — I haven’t seen the video. I don’t want to see it, nor do I need to. I don’t need visual proof to confirm to me that what Rice did was deplorable and that the NFL should have done more than suspend him for two games. However, it seems like a lot of people do need proof. I’m seeing more people screaming for Rice’s suspension or expulsion from the league now than I did when he was first arrested, or when the NFL came back with his slap on the wrist.
I have a number of issues with this outrage, but here are two big ones that jumped out at me as I read the some of the reaction to the video footage:
1. Circumstances shouldn’t matter.
From what I’ve read, the video shows how hard Rice hits her and it “proves” that he was the instigator by coming after her first. Why does anyone care how badly he hit her or how hard the hit looked? He. hit. her. Period. End of story. He could have shoved her lightly in the arm and it would still be wrong. The intensity of the hit is a moot point, because he never should have laid a hand on her in the first place.
Does it truly make a difference whether the video proves that Janay Palmer didn’t instigate the incident? No. She could have been up in his face before he took the first swing and it wouldn’t have mattered. It’s not an excuse.
Three months after the assault, the Baltimore Ravens sent out this tweet:
“Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.”
It’s time we stop qualifying and victim blaming when it comes to these issues. Domestic violence is domestic violence. Sort of like how rape is rape. The severity of the situation should never play a factor; yet, it does. We place a level of importance on whether a woman incites a man to lay a hand on her, but we fail to realize that this is not important — similar to how it’s not important how much a woman had to drink before she was raped. It’s not a woman’s responsibility to not get hit (or not get raped). It’s a man’s responsibility to not strike a woman (or touch her, unless she says “yes”).
2. Your outrage should go beyond the NFL.
I am a sports fan. In fact, I’d go so far as to call myself a sports fanatic. I LOVE sports, and I will watch almost any sporting event on television with great enthusiasm. I am one of millions who are deeply disappointed by the NFL’s lack of investigation and/or punishment of this incident. However, it’s important to recognize that these issues of violence against women by athletes go far beyond one sport or one league.
Look at collegiate sports as an example, and the opening of Title IX investigations against athletes accused of sexual assault. Look at what happened in Steubenville. There is a culture of violence in sports that goes far beyond what Ray Rice did to his wife in that elevator, and what the NFL didn’t do to set a precedent to punish it. I’m not saying that the NFL is off the hook here. No. Not by a long shot.
All I’m saying is that the pervasive culture of violence in sports will not end even if Rice is banned from the league. It will continue so long as we foster a culture of violence in our society, and while I don’t have a solution for stopping that, I do know it will take more than Roger Goodell to change the way we view and treat one another as human beings.
This tape may spark something good. Maybe the NFL will take serious action against Rice now. Maybe they will increase his suspension. Maybe the Ravens will release him. Who knows. Whatever happens, it won’t be enough. Not for Ray Rice. Not for the NFL. Not for sports fans. And not for people like me who believe that we’ve become so desensitized to violence in this country, it takes watching a video of a man knocking a woman unconscious for us to realize just how evil some people can be.