On Ray Rice, Domestic Violence and the NFL

The TMZ release of the Ray Rice assault video has sparked outrage all around the sports world. The outrage has been directed at both the horrible, now unambiguous actions of Ray Rice and the mishandling of the situation by the NFL league offices. Much has been written and said about the situation in the last 24 hours. Not nearly enough, however, has been written about domestic violence in general. Here’s hoping this is a start.

I am an Assistant Prosecutor in my hometown, a normal Midwest town. Currently, I am assigned to the domestic violence court in my hometown. I prosecute domestic violence cases on a daily basis. It’s been an illuminating experience. I had a normal, healthy childhood. I never witnessed domestic violence in my home. So I, like most others, never realized that it is a real problem. But it is. It’s a problem that plagues every community in the country– large or small.  The case of Ray Rice is a good reminder of that fact.

While every instance of domestic violence is unique to those involved in it, all domestic violence cases share similar characteristics and dynamics. Domestic violence is rarely an isolated incident. Rather, it is a series of events, both verbal and physical, which result in a cycle of violence.

Relationships mired in domestic violence generally begin small and escalate gradually. Abusers do not simply assault their partners. Abusers control their partners. Abusers use many different methods to control their partners. Money and children are among the most common methods of control. Power and control manifest themselves in many different ways, though, captured in the Power and Control Wheel created by domestic violence experts.

Abusers begin with verbal and emotional abuse. That escalates to physical violence. The physical violence escalates in degree. Eventually, the physical violence ends through either the termination of the relationship or the death of the victim. In my small Midwest hometown, there have been at least three murders in the past 12 months that are a direct result of domestic violence escalating to a fatal ending.

In between the abusive events, there are honeymoon periods. Abusers begin blaming victims for the abusive event occurring. Victims blame themselves. Abusers manipulate and intimidate victims into feeling responsible, minimizing the abuse, and ultimately recanting. I meet and speak with domestic violence victim on a near daily basis who recant and minimize the behaviors of their abusers. Victims then re-enter abusive relationships.  The cycle continues. The relationship becomes increasingly dangerous.

So how does all of this tie into the Ray Rice video? Understanding the dynamics of domestic violence allows us to provide better context for individual instances of domestic violence. The Ray Rice video shows a domestic violence incident that is, in all likelihood, not an isolated incident. Rice and his fiance engage in a verbal argument outside of the elevator. From there, they enter the elevator, the doors close, and Ray Rice proceeds to punch his fiance twice in the face until she falls unconscious. Rice then allows her unconscious body to lay in the elevator until the doors open and he drags her away.

These are not actions that are characteristic of a person who lost his temper and made a mistake. These are actions indicative of a calculated abuser. Rice doesn’t impulsively hit his fiance while outside of the elevator. He waits until they are seemingly in private and seriously assaults her. He doesn’t panic and check on her well-being immediately following the assault. He is calm. He shows no remorse. He appears to know what he’s doing.

And it’s not just that Ray Rice’s assault on his fiance doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident. His situation doesn’t seem to be all that unique among NFL players. Ray McDonald was recently arrested for a suspected felony domestic violence incident. Greg Hardy was recently found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend while threatening to kill her. These incidents, too, are not indicative of being first-time, isolated incidents.

These incidents do, however, reflect the wide-spread epidemic that is domestic violence. No one watches a football player score a touchdown and think, “You know what, I wonder if he beats his wife.” But that is the sad reality in the world in which we live. Athletes, friends and family we admire engage in these abusive relationships every day, whether it be as an abuser or a victim. And we turn a blind eye. It’s about time that changed.

The NFL has a terrific platform to contribute to that sort of change. Shift the focus off from diseases like cancer, which already have real and significant public awareness, to something like domestic violence, which is currently under-reported and under-prosecuted.  The NFL doesn’t have to stop contributing to the causes it currently does.  There is plenty of money to go towards other worthy causes like domestic violence awareness.  Encourage domestic violence victims to report and follow through with cases.  Donate to centers that provide support networks for victims of domestic violence.  Correct the behavior of abusers, whether it be that of players, other employees, or fans.

Make a difference. The opportunity is there. Take it and run with it, NFL.

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Today’s reads and views: The Ray Rice Embarassment turns into The Ray Rice Fiasco

I have a medical emergency at home, so sadly, I don’t have time to write my own hot take on this yet. (I will tell you, as a Saints fan, I’ve known for two and a half years that Roger Goodell is a liar and a hypocrite more concerned with PR than doing the right thing– and that’s before we get into his disciplinary stance as judge, jury, and executioner, who adjudicates primarily on whether or not he was lied to or his ass was sufficiently kissed than on the severity of the offense or any sense of morality and justice.)

You can read my initial take here. In lieu of writing something new in the meantime, I’ll post some of the best links of the day from some of the best writing and reporting on the issue. (Don’t be surprised if I update this regularly.)

Adam Schefter is furious that his water-carrying for the NFL has left him out to dry.

Gregg Doyel thinks the NFL got some ‘splainin’ to do, but considering he refers to Roger Goodell as an “invertebrate,” I think he’s keeping his expectations low.

The Kansas City Star has called for NFL owners to fire Roger Goodell. Not for him to resign, for him to be fired.

Christine Brennan wants the NFL and NFL teams to punish all domestic abusers, not just the ones caught on camera. (Which, I mean, duh, but given this league cares about image and image only, is still something they need their feet held to the fire on.)

And of course, the granddaddy of righteous anger, Keith Olbermann:

(transcript)

We will have a column coming later from Matt, whose experience as a prosecutor provides him with a uniquely well-informed perspective on domestic abusers and their patterns and pathology of behavior. I’m looking forward to it.

The Ray Rice Suspension Further Reveals the NFL’s Moral Emptiness

By now, you’ve likely read a great deal about Ray Rice uppercutting his fiancee’ in an elevator in February, seen the footage of Rice dragging her unconscious body from said elevator, heard about the NFL’s light discipline for him and its general cluelessness regarding how that would be perceived.

You’ve probably read the great column by Tomas Rios, or the number of excellent columns churned out by SBNation’s writers and numerous writers at other media outlets. Perhaps you wanted a woman’s perspective on the matter, and read Jane Coaston, Erin Gloria Ryan, or someone else. If you’re not a reader, or if you just really like watching well-articulated, justifiable outrage, you’ve seen Keith Olbermann’s video excoriating the league for its decision:

Even ESPN, that mainstream media outlet so deeply invested in the NFL’s success, had columnists taking the league to task over the message this suspension sent. (Their television arm didn’t handle it quite so well, to the point where another employee blasted them.) And the league itself seems utterly clueless about the message they have sent regarding their value system and their regard for domestic violence and the well-being of women as important matters (again, so did their television arm). High-ranking members of the Baltimore Ravens organization have chosen to characterize Rice’s decision to punch a woman he evidently loves enough to marry so hard she was knocked unconscious as a “mistake” and have made an effort to spin him as a good guy; this is after that bizarre press conference in May where they trotted out Janay Rice to apologize for causing Ray to punch her, and where Ray Rice said, without irony, “Failure is not getting knocked down; it’s not getting back up,” about himself.

All this is a long way of saying I don’t have a fresh take on this, just that I find the whole thing both troubling and unsurprising. The two-game suspension makes perfect sense for a league that cares about image and PR first and substance second somewhere far down the list. All I can really say is: Don’t be like them.

I find it troubling that I have spoken to men I believe to be otherwise intelligent about domestic violence and other problems women face, and how many of them think Janay Rice really does bear some fault here, how many of them fail to recognize the way abuse damages people and locks them in a cycle of fear and control, how many of them fail to even attempt to understand the perspective of women in these situations, and how many of them in general react to matters like this, or to any discussion about the levels of intimidation and threats of physical harm women live with every day, with the same narrow-minded, condescending perspective: “I’ve never seen anything like that or dealt with anything like that, so they must be exaggerating.” They might as well say “Bitches be crazy, amirite?”

Don’t be like them, and don’t be like the NFL.

The NFL will squeeze fans for higher and higher ticket and merchandise prices, they’ll squeeze the taxpayers to pay for new stadiums that will make teams even more money, they’ll sign television deals in the billions of dollars, and then they’ll lock out the players and cry poverty.

The NFL will beat their drums to make a big show of ruining a team’s season over player safety (even if an arbitrator with every incentive to rule in Goodell’s favor said the punishments he handed out essentially represented a temper tantrum on his part), but when it comes to real action on player safety, they’ll also do their best to silence the public talk about CTE and concussions and to squeeze retired players in their attempts to receive medical care and damages in their concussion lawsuit. (How many ex-players have to commit suicide in order to leave their brain to research before the NFL does something meaningful?)

They’ll call October breast cancer awareness month in the NFL; they’ll decorate everything in pink; they’ll even donate ALMOST TEN PERCENT of pink-based revenues to a charity that spends SOME MURKY PERCENTAGE of that on breast cancer research, care, and prevention! But the message from the actions of the league’s disciplinary office (i.e. Roger Goodell) is that violence against women is somewhere lower on the scale of awful transgressions than the following:

  • violence against a player on the field of play
  • smoking marijuana
  • accidentally taking a diet pill
  • or my favorite, getting free tattoos in college, while no NFL team held the player’s rights and he was not under contract or even eligible for the NFL yet

The league office was already hypocritical, corrupt, and morally bankrupt; now it’s been exposed as clueless, insular, and lacking basic human empathy as well.

Don’t be like the league.

Post-script

If I had the chance to ask Roger Goodell a question, I don’t even think it would be a question per se. Just a request for an admission. A futile request for the truth from a consummate hypocrite, sure, but a request: I’d ask Roger Goodell to admit he doesn’t care.

Mr. Goodell, admit you don’t care about the health of the players. Admit you don’t care about the players at all as human beings. Admit the conduct policy is about you being able to arbitrarily put players in their place (a bad look for a white man in a suit making money hand over fist off a labor force that’s over 70% black). Admit that this is the reason Josh Gordon will get a year suspension and you won’t do anything to Jim Irsay.

Admit you don’t care about your own hypocrisy. Admit you don’t care about the double standard. Admit you don’t care about domestic violence. Admit you don’t care about women, players, or fans. Admit the only thing you do care about is that $44,000,000 paycheck and keeping the catbird’s seat that allows you to collect it.

Well, that and the image of appearing you care.