It’s been nearly a week since the release of a surveillance-cam video that shows now-former NFL player Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée Janay Palmer in an elevator. By now, you’ve likely seen the video. You’ve likely heard that, almost immediately after the video hit the Internet, the Baltimore Ravens released Rice from the team. You’ve likely also seen countless conversations about the incident on social media. Innumerable tweets and Facebook statuses have called on other teams not to pick him up, have asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to step down, and have begged for our judicial system to properly punish domestic abusers.
Whatever your views, I’m calling on football-loving men to continue to talk about this incident, period. The Internet has a short attention span, but the U.S.’s epidemic of domestic violence demands that this conversation remain relevant – and this incident has shown just how much men of good conscience have to say on the topic. It is vital that they continue to speak loudly about it.
The Rice video, released early last week, shows the scenario that preceded one released on video this summer. That original video, which showed Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of an elevator, allowed doubters to insist, “We don’t know what happened! Maybe she was just drunk and he was helping her!” At the time, they were correct – we couldn’t say for certain.
Now, though, there can be no doubt. TMZ was even kind enough to show us the abuse video in slow-motion so we can see, in horrifying detail, the events that led Rice to felony assault charges and a mere two-game suspension from the NFL.
Rice, who can be seen clearly in the video punching his fiancée in the face, doesn’t even flinch when the woman he supposedly loves slams face-first onto an elevator handrail & passes out cold. He doesn’t even lean down to check on her or see the damage he’s done before he drags her out of the elevator like a sack of potatoes or some other worthless inanimate object. He then stands nearby, watching, as others tend to an injured Palmer and make sure she’s, you know, alive.
Much of the commentary surrounding this incident focuses on the fact that Commissioner Goodell, who TMZ reports had access to this video long before the general public did, handed Rice a mere two-game suspension for his actions. Sports radio commentators have note that if such an intentional knock-out had occurred on-field between two players, the suspension would surely have been longer. Dozens of thought pieces published in the wake of Rice’s suspension lament what such a mild sentence says of the NFL’s views of women – namely, total devaluation.
I very much doubt that Desmond Tutu had football in mind when he said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” but let’s face it: In a domestic violence situation this horrifying, two games is basically the same as neutral. Goodell, to his credit, now admits that he “didn’t get [Rice’s punishment] right,” and the NFL has since instituted harsher punishments for domestic abusers. Though critics argue it’s too little, too late, this is inarguably a positive step forward for a sport long associated with brutality and misogyny. It’s of course too bad it took the public beating of Janay Palmer to get the NFL to adopt such a policy – and one could argue they only did so in response to overwhelming criticism and outcry about Goodell’s initial sentence.
But that underscores another positive aspect of the media circus surrounding this incident, too: Men are talking about it.
It’s not easy to speak ill of institutions we love, even when we know they’re doing wrong, and especially when the repercussions don’t affect us individually (see: the Chik-fil-A homophobia controversy of 2012). It is a relief and an encouragement, then, to see so many men, liberal & conservative alike, expressing their rage and disappointment about the NFL’s recent spate of disproportionate punishments, particularly when it comes to Rice. This has not become an issue of “Oh, look how hard the women are overreacting!” – and for that, at least, I am thankful.
But just as many men are remaining silent – including the ones who live-tweet each game and take to Facebook to share long tributes to their passionate, deeply-felt views about every aspect of the NFL machine.
Ray Rice may not be an NFL player anymore, but I’d like to see more men speaking what he did and the conversations that have emerged as a result of it. There are countless good, football-loving men of conscience who have feelings about this incident, whether they’re saying it on social media or not, but it’s time for them – for you! – to say so. It is only by having conversations like these that we can normalize such topics, helping make the point that abuse is not just a women’s issue.
Talk about what Ray Rice did to Janay Palmer. Talk about Roger Goodell’s two-game suspension decision. Talk about the new NFL guidelines for players who abuse women. Talk about what these issues mean, not just for football but for society. Simply by engaging in meaningful and open-minded conversation, you can set an example: Domestic violence is an issue that we, men and women alike, must confront together, at every level.