On Ray Rice, the NFL, domestic violence and society

It’s sad that it takes this video for us to turn to outrage. What exactly did we think that “striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious” looked like?

That’s something that we have known for almost seven months now. For seven months, we have known that Ray Rice had knocked his then-fiancée Janay Palmer unconscious. And for seven months, we had done nothing. It took Harvey Levin and his TMZ army for us to understand the magnitude of the latest instance of an NFL player assaulting his girlfriend.

Domestic violence—it happens often in football. An image is worth a thousand words, so imagine how many words are in an eight-second video. Whatever the answer is, we’ve reached it collectively as a society this week. Because all week, we’ve written column after column after column regarding this Ray Rice scandal. 

If it’s so sad, it’s because this video doesn’t accomplish much beyond further victimizing Janay Palmer. (She knows it, too.) She’s been victimized at every turn in this saga, first when her then-fiancé hit her, then when the first video surface, then at the laughable sham of a Baltimore Ravens press conference to defend Rice, where Palmer had to recognize the role she played in the incident, and then when she met with representatives from the NFL and the Ravens as the league was pondering what punishment to hand out to its running back. None of this was enough for us, no. We needed this new video.

It’s sad, because this shows the type of society that we live in. Apparently, it’s one that needs to victimize Janay Palmer one last time in order to understand the ignominy of Ray Rice’s actions. It’s a society that needs this video to determine that domestic violence is reprehensible. Oh of course, in theory everyone knows that it is unacceptable to assault your loved one (though maybe don’t ask this question to Ravens fans). Yet, our society seems to insist on acting as if this weren’t so. Why do we need to see an NFL player punch the woman of his life to know how horrible it is? The description, without the video, should be enough.

It’s also a society that loves football, and the NFL specifically, and sure let’s talk about the NFL. Simply put, the league has reinvented the definition of the word fiasco at every turn in its handling of this case. It’s a league that has proven that it only wants to react, not act. First, it took all of five months to hand out a punishment to Rice, and somehow the powers that be truly believed that a whopping two-game suspension would be enough. It wasn’t. It wasn’t, and the league had to then scramble in order to review and modify its policy for dealing with cases of domestic violence. It rushed to create a new one that is rife with potential loopholes. And now that this new video has gone viral, the league has reacted and decided to suspend Rice indefinitely. Because this video makes the league look bad. Makes it look foolish. Makes it look like it really doesn’t care much about women, which, well, just might be the case.

(There are those saying that it’s already a good thing that the NFL has acted in any way when the legal system decided not to. And sure, but those are two different discussions. From the moment that the league decided to (re)act, it was opening itself to criticism.)

Oh, but the NFL does care about women! In a few weeks, its Breast Cancer Awareness campaign will return, and the pink apparel that all players will wear during the month of October will go for sale. A part of each $100 sale, perhaps as little as $3.54, will go to support breast cancer. It’s not much, of course, but I guess that $3.54 is still $3.54 more than what I’ll contribute. But it feels like it should be more, especially if the NFL is indeed a non-profit (really) corporation with revenue of $9 billion for 2013.

In light of this fiasco, there’s been a growing sentiment that Roger Goodell should go, whether it be via firing or resigning. And, I mean, sure. He probably does deserve to go due to his bungling of the situation. But he’s just a human piñata. You know how the piñata works, right? You walk around and look for it, bashing at air until you somehow land a blow. Then you bash like crazy, hitting the piñata again and again until it spews candy. Then, you’re happy. Also this: this all happens while you’re blindfolded. Bashing Goodell is missing everything else. It’s cheapening, or perhaps missing entirely, the other part of the conversation. The part about domestic violence.

Because that’s the hope with our collective outrage—that it can enact some kind of change. It took this new video to get there, and maybe that’s sad. Maybe it’s sad, because we should have been outraged about all 56 instances of domestic violence (and the ensuing 13 matches of suspension) that have occurred in the NFL since 2006 under Goodell’s watch. Maybe it’s sad, because Dorothy Giunta-Cotter was murdered by her husband in Massachusetts in 2002, or for the fact that there have been about 600 other Dorothy Giunta-Cotter’s since Rice hit Palmer, as James Brown explained during the Thursday Night Football pre-game show.

Maybe it’s also sad, because it means we overlooked the horrifying case of Jovan Belcher, a Kansas City Chiefs linebacker who shot and killed his girlfriend before driving to his team’s practice facility and killing himself there. Instead, we basically just wrote a column about it and called it a day. Maybe that’s sad. Maybe it’s also sad that the NFL has chosen to discipline Greg Hardy for his face paint but not his domestic violence, he who has been found guilty of assaulting and threatening his ex-girlfriend. Maybe it’s also sad that San Francisco suspended their play-by-play radio guy for two games for incredibly tone deaf, stupid and dangerous comments on Ray Rice… when Ray McDonald, fresh from an arrest for domestic violence charges, will play for the team. Maybe it’s also sad, because we know that despite the horror we will still keep watching football games. We can’t help it, and that’s sad.

Plenty of things about the ways that we’ve confronted (read: avoided) domestic violence, both in the past and in how we continue to do so today, are maddening. But maybe this video will change that. We’re outraged now, and maybe we’ll use that outrage to take concrete steps. Maybe we’ll help, volunteer or donate. Maybe we’ll each decide to educate ourselves about one of our society’s wrongs that is so deeply misunderstood.