Ray Rice was fired from the Baltimore Ravens after a full video surfaced of him brutally beating his then-fiancee and now-wife, Janay Rice, unconscious in the elevator of the Revel Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. The NFL didn’t fire Rice when they saw the tape, they fired him when we saw the tape. The NFL told TMZ sports that league officials did not see the new full video that surfaced this week before giving Rice the suspension. “We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator. That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today.” The question that hasn’t stopped scrolling across my mind in neon letters, like a marquee is: Why did it take the full video being released via TMZ for the NFL to punish Rice’s unthinkable actions?
Rice was arrested, indicted and charged with aggravated assault (that he plead not guilty to) on February 15, 2014 and applied for New Jersey’s pretrial intervention program, which allows first-time offenders to have charges against them dismissed after participating in the program and meeting certain conditions. He was accepted into the program earlier this week, allowing him to avoid trial. But get this: the aggressors’ spouses have to consent to the program in order for their significant others to even have the option. Athletes and other men of prestige often get a pass in situations like these and I’m over it. And sometimes, those passes come from the very women they’re beating.
It was just last month when Federal District Judge Mark Fuller was arrested on misdemeanor battery charges after allegedly assaulted his wife at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta, Georgia. Fuller’s wife accused him of having an affair with his clerk before the physical altercation began. Fuller is certainly a man of prestige and not necessarily of fame. He is a George W. Bush-appointee to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. He won’t do time and he’ll have a clean record, just like Rice, as he opted for a plea bargain and pretrial diversion. Fuller’s wife consented. Said bargain requires him to “undergo a once a week family and domestic violence program for 24 weeks” and he’ll also need to be evaluated to determine if he has a drug or alcohol problem. Once he meets these requirements, his record will be expunged. The only way to strip Fuller of his judicial rank and his salary, however, is through impeachment by Congress.
How about Charlie Sheen? This once celebrated actor, now tragic superstar and self-proclaimed “warlock” has somehow violently assaulted every woman he’s ever been with, starting in 1990 with his then-fiancee, Kelly Preston. Sheen shot her in the arm and it was dismissed as an accident. Six years later, he was arrested for beating his then-girlfriend, Brittany Ashland. And this pattern continues on with different women until Sheen was charged with felony menacing, third degree assault and criminal mischief. However, just like Rice and Fuller, he took a plea deal and the charges were reduced to misdemeanor assault and he was sentenced to 30 days of rehab, 30 days of probation and 36 hours of anger management. Talk about a slap on the wrist! Sheen has over 20 years of documented domestic violence and he’s not ever had to sufficiently pay for it!
How about San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald, who was arrested this month on felony domestic violence charges after officers responded to a home in an upscale neighborhood. Police discovered “visible injuries” on the victim, who was said to be McDonald’s fiancee. He posted the $25,000 bail and went right back to the field to start the season and played more than any other defensive lineman. He’s not been suspended or reprimanded in any other way. 49ers CEO Jed York said on KNBR 680-AM, “I will not punish somebody until we see evidence something should be done or until an entire police investigation shows us something.”
Ray Rice has proven to be give the same courtesy. Last month, the NFL decided to only suspend Rice for two games, because at the time, there was only evidence that he’d dragged Palmer and that wasn’t enough to do something extreme, like fire him! Rice’s firing comes almost seven months after the incident occurred. It didn’t take seven months to punish Rice, it took widely distributed visual proof for the NFL to feel the pressure. It was very concerning that only days after Rice’s arrest, one of the heads of the Raven’s organization, John Harbaugh came to Rice’s defense: “The two people obviously have a couple issues that they have to work through, and they’re both committed to doing that. That was the main takeaway for me from the conversation. They understand their own issues. They’re getting a lot of counseling and those kinds of things, so I think that’s really positive. That was the main takeaway.”
While I commend Harbaugh for trying to locate a silver lining this situation, the main takeaway from this entire incident should be a lot more focused on men of power who seem to get away with beating the women they claim to love. In reaction to Rice’s drama, the NFL beefed up their domestic violence policy. The NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell designated that there would be stiffer penalties going forward: six-game suspension without pay for the first offense and a lifetime ban for a second offense. Goodell specified that these rules will apply to all NFL personnel, including executives and owners, not just players. A player who receives a lifetime ban can petition for reinstatement after one year. Goodell goes on to say, “We will work with nationally recognized experts to ensure that the NFL has a model policy on domestic violence and sexual assault. We will invest time and resources in training, programs and services that will become part of our culture. And we will increase the sanctions imposed on NFL personnel who violate our policies.”
That all sounds great, but what about the players who have had their indiscretions swept under the rug? Those players like Ray McDonald, who are still on the field, even though there’s police records with their names on it that should secure them a seat on the bench, or better yet, on their own couches. Sure Rice has been fired, but he’s not facing any jail time. He also may end up with a clean record, just like Judge Fuller. And not to mention, Janay Rice’s reaction. She released a statement via Instagram that was saturated in fault, resentment, anger and deprivation. Essentially, Janay was another pawn in Rice’s game of not ever facing fault. It was actually shocking to read her reaction:
“I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it’s reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that [the] media & unwanted options from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass of for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!”
Janay refuses to place any responsibility on her husband. She blames the public for taking away what Rice has worked his entire life for. Rice’s actions were his own. I understand wanting to a the pillar of strength and support for your husband. And I also understand that each and every one of us have a breaking point that are all different. Janay’s breaking point may not be anywhere near being at the receiving end of a brutal blow from the man who is supposed to protect her. Whatever the case is between Ray and Janay, her statement is…scary. Her position on this entire debacle is proof positive that she’s given Ray a pass and will continue to. For what reason? The world may never know. It could be for all the comforts being an athlete’s wife affords you. It could be because he’s controlled her to the point of blind submission. And it could just be because she’s got classic values that make her take those “for better or worse” vows as law. 22 percent to 25 percent of American women will face domestic violence at some point in their lifetimes, so maybe it’s those staggering stats that make victims think that it’s just another thing we have to go through.
One small component of domestic violence is coercive control and it is defined as “a strategic course of conduct designed to retain privilege and establish domination in personal life based on fear, dependence and the deprivation of basic rights and liberties.” I won’t even begin to pretend I know what’s going on in Ray and Janay’s relationship, but when I look at the video, I see a man who didn’t pause before hitting his woman and he barely flinched when she hit the floor, unconscious. From Rice’s lack of reaction of Palmer hitting the ground, one could only assume it didn’t phase him. From Janay’s apology, one could assume that she feels at fault or she even could have been forced to apologize on his behalf. This is a typical battered woman syndrome.
My blood is boiling. It’s no secret that domestic violence doesn’t get the attention it needs, especially when the attacker is a man of prestige. Domestic violence against women maintains gender oppression. And whether we believe it or not, we live in a culture that justifies it, despite how much we may outwardly protest and clutch our pearls when it happens around us. It’s the reason Stephen A. Smith felt he could express his “support” for Rice. It’s the reason Rice’s initial punishment was suspension from two games. It’s the reason Janay felt she should apologize for her role in the assault, as she sat next to the man who became her husband a day after he was indicted for knocking her unconscious.
Instead of asking questions like: Why is she staying with him? Why did she marry him after this incident? We should be asking: How can we be helpful to women in these situations? Why do we allow battering like this to continue? Why do men, especially those of power, feel they are allowed to terrorize their women? And what can women like Janay Rice do after the world witnesses the extremity of her abuse? And when will we stop allowing men of power free passes?!