What Will it Take for the NFL to Take Domestic Violence Seriously?
Truth be told I don’t know much about football. The only time I really ever think about the sport is when a scandal erupts in the news cycle and I’m blind with rage.
Case in point: Balitmore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
This week Rice received a two game suspension with no pay from the NFL for an altercation with Janay Palmer, his then girlfriend, now wife. Almost instantly after the NFL’s announcement, there was an outcry of criticism that it was too lenient of a sentence. After all, according to a report of the incident, Rice struck Palmer with such force that he rendered her unconscious. Video even surfaced showing the 27-year-old dragging an unconscious Palmer out of the casino elevator where the incident took place and dropping her on the ground face-down.
If you can imagine, the story actually gets worse.
After news of the domestic dispute and Rice’s suspension surfaced, several NFL notables came out in his defense. To start, Ravens head Coach John Harbaugh had the following to say about the incident and his player:
It’s not a big deal. It’s just part of the process…We said from the beginning that the circumstances would determine the consequences. There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray. He’s a heck of a guy. He’s done everything right since.
Not a big deal? Done everything right since? Heck of a guy? Let’s not forget that Harbaugh is describing a man that beat his girlfriend to the point of unconsciousness.
Harbaugh isn’t the only one to come to Rice’s defense. In fact after Kevin Byrne, Ravens Senior Vice President of Public & Community Relations, found out about Rice’s sentencing, he asked owner Steve Bisciotti if he could speak out in defense of Rice in his blog. About his conversation with Bisciotti, Bryne says, “I wanted to write about Ray Rice and how much respect I have for him.”
His blog touts Ray as a “good guy” who is “smart” and “the most popular person.” He says Rice has showed “great character” over the six years he’s known him. “I liked Ray Rice a lot then. I like Ray Rice a lot today,” he says. You almost forget he is talking about a man who has been suspended for domestic abuse, especially because the only reference to what happened is described as a “bad incident” that was “out of character.”
If that wasn’t enough, in another attempt to salvage Rice’s reputation, Bryne shares a story in his blog post about how Paul Coughlin, a bullying expert the NFL has hired to speak to rookies, has reached out to Rice to encourage him to continue with his anti-bullying work. Of Rice Coughlin says:
Ray is one of the most prominent and active voices in the anti-bullying movement. I told him that from what I understood about his incident with his wife that it was not a form of bullying. Bullying harms and diminishes life itself. A bully intends to harm and continues to do that. It seemed Ray had a conflict with his wife that he regretted, and when he told me about the counseling he was receiving, I sensed a person who knew he made a mistake and was determined to bounce back.”
Are you red with rage yet? If Rice hitting his girlfriend to the point of unconsciousness doesn’t constitute an intention of harm, I don’t know what does.
Outside of the NFL, ESPN panelist Stephen A. Smith has also come under fire for his statements about Rice’s domestic abuse against his wife. While Smith didn’t take the approach of defending Rice, a man he said has “no business putting [his] hands on a woman,” he instead insinuated that women should do their own part not to provoke such violence upon themselves (I was just waiting for the victim-blaming to begin). Smith has since been sentenced with his own suspension from ESPN despite his best efforts to clarify what he meant on Twitter, which really didn’t do much to help his cause.
Perhaps Smith took his mark from Rice in blaming Palmer who in his apology about the incident said:
As I said earlier, I failed in many ways. But, Janay and I have learned from this. We have become better as a couple and as parents. I am better because of everything we have experienced since that night.
What is Palmer suppose to learn from what happened?
That even if you hit your girlfriend people will tell the world you are a “good guy”? Or that smoking marijuana or taking performance enhancing drugs are far worse crimes than hitting your girlfriend until she passes out? Players in the NFL have historically received sentences of four, six or even eight game suspensions for offenses like that, but let me remind you that Rice will only be sitting out for two games.
If there were any silver lining to this entire story it would be the remarks made by Rice’s former teammate Derrick Mason who has publicly said he believes Rice deserves a harsher punishment:
I think the NFL needs to take a harsher stance toward domestic violence. When you suspend a guy for six games for marijuana or [performance-enhancing drugs], you should take at least that approach toward domestic violence. To come back and say, “It’s going to be two games and he can appeal it,” then those women that follow football start to wonder if the NFL condones violence against women.
Players like Rice are role models for the millions of fans who proudly support their teams. The NFL could have sent a clear message with Rice that they won’t tolerate players who are guilty of domestic violence, but instead they just gave him a gentle slap on the wrist and quickly bandaged him up with cries of his good character.
What kind of a message is the NFL sending to fans when they come to the defense of players who have committed violence against women? What kind of message does this send players?
The NFL can certainly do better. We should expect better.
Photo Credit: KeithAllison