Ray Rice and the Rest of Us

Yesterday morning, footage was leaked of NFL running back Ray Rice knocking out his wife (then fiance) Janay Rice in a casino elevator.

Mind you, this comes seven months after the original leaked footage revealed him dragging his unconscious wife from the elevator — leaving his transgression to our imaginations. The footage released today shows the actual violence.(1)

As a result of this new footage, Ray Rice was fired by the Baltimore Ravens and indefinitely suspended by the National Football League. Many have applauded the Ravens organization and the NFL for doing the right thing.

“It changed things of course,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said at a press conference held Monday. “It made things a little bit different.”

No, in fact, the new footage didn’t change anything. We already knew Ray Rice had knocked Janay Rice unconscious. We already knew that he dragged her out of the elevator like a sack of potatoes. Nothing about what happened changed. The only difference is that now there’s a grainy elevator tape zipping around the internet of a former Baltimore Raven’s employee (someone Harbaugh called a ‘heck of a guy’ just a month ago) hitting someone hard enough to render them senseless. And it won’t simply go away, as some may have previously hoped.

I’m not naive enough to think that Rice’s suspension is anything more than PR. And I refuse to applaud them simply because I’m happy with the outcome. An earnest response to Rice’s violence would have happened months ago. The ends do not justify the path taken to get there.

But perhaps more problematic than the NFLs five month journey to an actual punishment is the average response to the second video. Over the past 24 hours much has been done to make this issue about Ray Rice. In tweet after tweet, status after facebook status people have been quick to condemn his actions.

He’s an animal, some have said. He’s a monster.

No. Ray Rice is not an animal. He is a human being. Ray Rice is a red-blooded American-citizen (in fact, he is an all-american). Ray Rice grew up in a neighborhood like yours and went to Rutgers University. Ray Rice was on your fantasy team last year.

Ray Rice is not a monster. A werewolf is a monster. Bigfoot is a monster. But those things are also imaginary creatures. They do not exist. Ray Rice is very real. Domestic violence and intimate relationship abuse is very real.

But this is about so much more than this one man. We don’t have a Ray Rice problem. We have a domestic violence problem.

The minute Ray Rice becomes a monster, you allow yourself to cordon him off from the society that helped shape him. You exonerate the norms and culture that we are all steeped in. You pardon a patriarchal society that you yourself belong to — perhaps comfortably so — and participate in.

Don’t pretend he is an anomaly. His was the same story of thousands other men and women who committed intimate partner violence that very same day in February. The only difference is that none of them wear a purple helmet on Sundays. (Well, some do). His is an American story.(2)

When we talk about Ray Rice, we need to make sure we’re talking about ourselves. And we need to realize that we are all complicit in a system that allows nearly a third of women and ten percent of men to be victims of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. In 2010 alone nearly seven million women were victims of intimate partner violence including rape, physical violence or stalking. Ray Rice has not been that busy.

Understand, I am not saying that we shouldn’t hold Ray Rice accountable. Nor am I excusing his actions in any way. I’m just hoping that we all hold ourselves accountable as well.

Someone out there will read about Rice’s indefinite suspension, think it well-deserved and then scoff at Janay Rice for marrying him after the fact.

Someone will call him the scum of the earth and then walk outside and proceed to cat-call at any woman unlucky enough to just be existing in his line of sight.

Someone will vow to never cheer for the Raven’s again and then question the motives of a rape victim who has the courage to step forward and share their story.

We need to admit that the difference between any of us and Rice is only in degrees and not in kind. We need to realize that some of our actions prop up the very system that keeps so many in fear.

It’s imperative that Ray Rice face a real punishment for what he did that night in February. And it is important that the NFL have a real system in place for handling these issues when they arise. But that’s the low bar. More importantly than punishing people after the fact, we need to address the issues with how our society is set up to perpetuate these types of events. Yes, the NFL should strengthen it’s punishments, but we also need to hold NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s feet to the fire in following through with the list of new policies and domestic violence prevention programs outlined in his letter to franchise owners and players. We need to support the organizations and researchers looking for ways to prevent domestic violence before it starts. We should rally around the activists on the front lines of pushing for greater public resources and stricter laws to combat violence against women.

Failure to do these things means that we’re ok with simply waiting for the next Ray Rice to point and scream at. And it makes us all just as guilty as him.

1. I’m not going to link to it. And to be honest, I wish I’d never watched it myself.

2. Yes, I understand that the US isn;t the only country with issues of violence against women. But I’m talking about us right now.

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