By: Ben Johnson
Here's a partial list of reasons why the Ray Rice Saga is upsetting.
1. (Most important) That Ray Rice, an incredibly physically strong professional athlete man, struck Janay Palmer, an unarmed woman not physically strong enough in comparison to represent any actual imminent threat to Rice’s safety, hard enough to knock her unconscious.
2. That a video of Ray Rice dragging Palmer’s unconscious body out of an elevator showed an apparent lack of tenderness and respect for her and her body in the immediate aftermath of his having struck her.
3. That Ray Rice and Janay Palmer were engaged at the time, and had a daughter together, indicating that regardless of the inherent wrongness of any man striking any woman and dragging her unconscious body, Rice had also implicitly and explicitly agreed, by asking for her hand in marriage and by fathering a child with her, to act with an especial deference to Palmer’s humanity and safety in particular.
4. That, a day after Rice’s indictment for Aggravated Assault, Rice and Palmer were married, which though a choice made by two adults, may strike some as incongruous given Rice’s actions.
5. That the State of New Jersey, while charging Ray Rice with Aggravated Assault regardless of Janay Rice’s expressed wishes not to prosecute, offered Rice a plea deal which would allow him to avoid jail time with probation and mandatory anger management counseling, which will still be valid pending his application to a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders. If he is accepted into and successfully completes this program, his record will be expunged. This may strike some as being too lenient.
6. That the now-married Ray Rice and Janay Palmer appeared together in a press conference in which Palmer apologized for her involvement in the incident, which was blameless and involuntary on her part, as she was the victim of an assault committed against her by Ray Rice.
7. That neither during this press conference, nor subsequent to it, did Ray Rice openly admit to or claim sole responsibility for his actions. He apologized to his business partners, employers, and fans, but did not take advantage of the opportunity to apologize, publicly, to his wife. He did thank and praise both his specific counselors and the counseling process in general for support recently received, but did not stress the urgency of the counseling process or mention future counseling plans.
8. That sound legal advice is likely the reason why Ray Rice has not openly admitted to or claimed sole responsibility for his actions, indicating a legal system which on an institutional level incentivizes secrecy or at least a lack of forthrightness on the part of domestic violence offenders.
9. That as a result of his conduct the NFL suspended Ray Rice for the first two games of the season, half the length of the suspension usually given to offenders of the league’s substance abuse policy, indicating an internal NFL priority system more tolerant of violent crime against women than on nonviolent drug-related infractions.
10. That some self-styled commentators on social media, and, more shockingly, professional pundits on television networks affiliated via partnership with the NFL, posited on possible justifications of Ray Rice’s actions which suggested Janay Palmer may bear some responsibility for having been struck in the head.
11. That the NFL admitted to missteps and revised its policy on domestic violence only after it was exposed to over two months of public scorn.
12. That a second video of Ray Rice actually striking Janay Palmer, leaked to TMZ, shows that Rice did in fact punch Palmer in the face, and not in response to any action on her part which could reasonably be construed as a threat to his safety.
13. That the NFL and Ravens waited until after the widespread release of this video to release Rice from his player contract and suspend him from the NFL indefinitely.
14. That rumors and accounts of this second video had been in circulation for months prior to its leaking, and that both the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens, both organizations with incalculable resources, say that they had not seen this video until after its release on TMZ.
15. That both the NFL and the Ravens continue to insist they had not seen this second video of Ray Rice striking Janay Palmer, even though an anonymous law enforcement official stepped forward to contradict that claim in a report released by the Associated Press, a 168 year old journalistic organization with presumably rigorous standards of verification.
16. That the NFL is now launching an “independent” investigation of its actions, to be headed up by a former FBI investigator and overseen by two NFL team owners.
17. That NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has overseen the NFL’s response to both this situation and the preceding cover-up of concussion science, as well as several other insensitive missteps such as siding with Washington owner Dan Snyder over the continued use of the nickname “Redskins,” still has a job he will reportedly “never” relinquish.
18. Whatever happens next regarding this will happen in a legal and economic environment which has revealed itself repeatedly throughout this process to be more concerned with protecting vested interests, avoiding individual culpability for moral decision-making processes, and making grand-gesture changes to policy only in reaction to public relations crises than it is with doing whatever is necessary to protect or serve the victims of an all too common crime. Everybody involved in this incident, except for Janay Palmer, from Ray Rice, to his employers in the NFL and with the Baltimore Ravens, to the media which has covered this story, self most probably included, has done much more harm than good when faced with a tremendous opportunity to address an important and complicated issue responsibly.
19. That, highlighting the systematic misogyny in dealing with this case, most of the high-profile actors within it are men, and all of the business interests directly involved are controlled by men. I'm a man too. We spout our damn mouths off too often, and sometimes we punch women, and those are interrelated decisions we can by dint of our gender feel entitled to make, and that is patently unfair.
Here’s a partial list of what I believe about this subject:
1. That Ray Rice bears sole responsibility for intentionally punching an unarmed woman who did not pose an immediate threat to his or anybody else’s safety, which is absolutely morally indefensible, and especially so in this case given that A. she was his fiancé and the mother of his child, and B. he has the physical bearing of a professional athlete, and hit her with sufficient force to knock her unconscious. No words or actions of Janay Palmer, nor any ingested amount of consciousness-altering substances such as alcohol, offer any excuse whatsoever for Ray Rice’s decision to punch Janay Palmer.
2. That neither Janay Palmer nor any other woman should be held responsible for Ray Rice’s, or any other man’s, decision to employ violence against her. That is a decision, and it was Ray Rice’s decision which happened internally within Ray Rice’s brain and was acted upon physically by Ray Rice’s arm and fist, and that decision did not involve or consult Janay Palmer. It was a violation of her basic right as a human not to be physically assaulted.
3. That while the issue of whether or not it is morally wrong for a man to punch or otherwise use force against an unarmed woman who does not pose an immediate threat to his or anybody else’s safety, and the issue of who bears the responsibility for such a decision are both simple, the issue of how we as a society should best understand, prevent, process, and punish domestic violence is complicated.
4. That Ray Rice is not a monster. Ray Rice is a human being who did something absolutely morally indefensible which nonetheless human beings, all male human beings, are capable of doing. As such, he is also solely responsible for the continued care and maintenance of Ray Rice and must therefore take and maintain all actions necessary to ensure that he does not hit any woman ever again.
5. That, as Janay Palmer did not have a choice over whether or not to be punched, it should not be up to me or anybody but Janay Palmer and those she chooses to consult to tell Janay Palmer how best to address the situation. While I, like everybody, am entitled to my opinions, one of those opinions is that Janay Palmer, like all people, has the agency to make her own decisions regarding whether or not to marry, separate from, support, or condemn Ray Rice, and to say or do whatever she feels a need to say or do on the matter at any given time. Further, I do not think her decisions on the matter should in any way lessen her standing in the public eye as a strong, capable woman, as any questioning of the validity of her choices based on any conceptual value system external to Janay Palmer herself constitutes a willful denial of her ability to choose what’s best for her, and does so in a manner akin to the original offense in kind but certainly not magnitude. But: this is not to say that Janay Palmer should be granted more agency than otherwise in her ability to make decisions, and that some decisions, such as regards the present status of Ray Rice’s legal fate, about how the crime of aggravated assault is enforced and punished in the State of New Jersey, are necessarily going to remain out of her hands.
6. That battered person syndrome, preventable domestic homicide, and the serial and/or severe and/or expertly manipulative abusers who are the sole cause of each are all very real phenomena representing recognizable patterns within the spectrum of domestic abuse. BUT, each case of domestic violence involves different people in unique circumstances, and therefore blanket conceptual approaches to addressing domestic violence will in at least some cases further incentivize and empower the feelings of secrecy, shame, and isolation which are domestic violence’s milieu, which is as real a danger as certain offenders falling through the cracks of policy platforms with too much designed elasticity. As such, there is as much sense in the existence of amnesty programs for certain first-time offenders as there is in creating much harsher penalties for repeat offenders or especially violent offenders, and many of the state’s laws and on-the-books enforcement mechanisms are as close to correct now as they are likely going to be. I believe that New Jersey’s legal system is handling the Ray Rice case in an exemplary fashion.
7. That alcohol use and abuse poses a larger influence on our consciousness and societal framework than it is credited with, and that while alcohol abuse cannot cause domestic violence, it can contribute to the sort of distorted mindset which domestic violence is enabled by.
8. That, perhaps more complicated as is the case with alcohol being no excuse for Ray Rice’s behavior, erratic and aggressive behavior are symptoms of CTE, the degenerative neurological disorder associated with repeated blows to the head which several professional and amateur football players are known to have suffered from. I obviously do not know if Ray Rice suffers from CTE, nor do I know much about CTE’s affect on a person’s psyche, or how to care for or manage a person who suffers from CTE, or even if CTE has any connection whatsoever to domestic violence other than my own perceptions typifying domestic violence as “erratic and aggressive behavior,” a listed symptom of the disorder. Hopefully medical science will know more about this disorder in the near future. Also, to the unknown and perhaps unknowable extent that Ray Rice's actions may be related to CTE symptoms, and to the extent that NFL is culpable for a work environment which would contribute to such CTE, the NFL would be that amount complicit in Ray Rice's actions.
9. That Ray Rice is genuinely contrite about his actions, and that Janay Palmer is justified in supporting him, but that due to their particular circumstances and personalities, neither of them are as articulate or as prepared or as insightful about this complex issue as may be ideal given the enormity of the attention focused on their case and the pervasiveness of domestic violence. This is totally forgivable. They are not, nor should we expect them to be, professional advocates.
10. That domestic violence is an act of cowardice, and to expect an above average amount of both courage and conviction from an abuser is unrealistic. Nevertheless, I think that Ray Rice should have publicly admitted to what he did, demanded full responsibility for his actions, and accepted the consequences. If by not doing so he has been responding to Janay Palmer’s wishes on the matter, which should for a time supersede his own sense of right and wrong, I respect him for making the decision not to admit to the commission of a crime on that basis and that basis alone.
11. That the scorn heaped upon Ray Rice does not help Ray Rice in his task of working on Ray Rice, nor does it help Janay Palmer, nearly so much as it soothingly helps the scorners distance themselves from Ray Rice and his actions.
12. That the actions of the powers that be within the NFL and within the Baltimore Ravens are not Ray Rice’s fault, and that he very probably did not lie to them about his actions. And that even if he did, the high profile nature of his actions would necessitate a full and thorough investigation rather than blind trust in Ray Rice’s word.
13. That the sheer obviousness of all the well-moneyed parties with a vested interest in minimizing, covering up, and transparently spinning Ray Rice’s commission of domestic violence is at least as sickening as the act itself.
14. I do not believe that the NFL and/or the Baltimore Ravens would not have made all possible inquiries into the nature of Ray Rice’s actions, including viewing all available video surveillance footage, and I am therefore also unwilling to accept that the initial two game suspension penalty was not informed by a viewing of that video. Several journalists had seen that video and/or made mention of having seen it or hearing accounts of it as early as May. I refuse to believe that the NFL and Baltimore Ravens had fewer resources or less interest in the truth than these journalists, or TMZ.
15. I am willing to accept that neither the Baltimore Ravens nor the NFL could admit to having seen these videos without also admitting to interfering with an ongoing investigation, but I cannot accept the pragmatic necessity of lying about it.
16. That commentators on any of the television networks who have business partnerships with the NFL are not trustworthy sources of information regarding an act of wrongdoing on the part of the NFL.
17. That both the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens have been tone deaf, reactionary, and transparently manipulative through every single step of the timeline of this story’s development, and they continue to be so to this day. I believe they are doing so in a spiraling attempt to protect their brand name and interests, and I believe that stems from an initial but fully informed decision to protect their brand name and interests by continually suppressing and spinning and downplaying the significance of what Ray Rice did.
18. That even if I am wrong about this, even if the NFL really did not see the tapes or manipulate the media or downplay the situation, their actions bespeak a lumbering institutionalized misogyny that is disturbingly ineffectual at acting morally. And if I am correct in my belief that the NFL willfully covered up their knowledge and overtly manipulated media sources and lied about timelines, then that lumbering institutionalized misogyny is even more disturbingly ineffectual at acting with calculated immorality.
19. That institutionalized, de facto corruption is inherent in any billion-plus dollar business in 2014, and that the wielders of decision making power behind such organizations are inherently untrustworthy, and that among countless others like him, Roger Goodell, and a likely high percentage of his staff, should not be trusted to run so powerful and so high profile an organization.
20. That I enjoy football, my favorite sport to watch and follow, a lot less because of all this, and while that is unfortunate because it decreases the overall amount of joy I experience in my life, the NFL’s handling of this situation is further evidence to me that maybe I shouldn’t have been enjoying it so much in the first place.
21. That I am glad Ray Rice is not playing football right now, and that I hope he focuses hard on the task ahead of him, and I hope that he and Janay Palmer can live their lives in a way that is healthy, productive, and provides adequate support to their daughter.
And that’s all I got.