I heard you make a passing comment in our world lit class about Ray and Janay Rice and criticizing him for hitting her and her for staying. Could you elaborate on this, please?
I’ve thought a lot about this, and I have gone back and forth about what I think about Janay Rice since the day she sat by her husband at a news conference in March and announced to those who would listen that she “deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.”
For those of you who have been asleep for the last seven months, Janay (Palmer) Rice is the wife of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. After TMZ released a second video showing Mr. Rice delivering an uppercut to Janay and subsequently knocking out his then fiancée in an elevator (the first video only showed Rice dispassionately and nonchalantly dragging her unconscious body from the elevator), the Baltimore Ravens terminated his contract. Shortly afterwards, the NFL indefinitely suspended Rice, after originally only suspending him for two games.
The Baltimore Ravens, the NFL, and Roger Goodell have all been criticized for how they first handled Ray Rice’s assault of Janay Rice, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter has called the subsequent fallout “arguably the biggest black eye the league has ever had.” Roger Goodell is still telling the world that he never saw that second video of what happened between Ray and Janay Rice in that casino elevator, though many people question the veracity of that statement, including someone who says that he personally delivered the video to the NFL offices. However, did Roger Goodell really need to actually see Ray Rice deliver an uppercut to Janay Rice as if she were Mike Tyson to know that something terribly awful had happened before those elevator doors opened showing an unconscious Janay Rice being dragged from it?
Less than 24 hours after the Baltimore Ravens fired Ray Rice and the NFL indefinitely suspended him, Janay Rice posted the following statement to her Instagram:
“I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend,” Janay Rice wrote. “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 opinions 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!”
Many people have questioned Janay Rice’s vociferous and sometimes defiant defense of her husband, and some have even argued that those of us who question Janay Rice’s decision to stay in an abusive relationship are simply re-victimizing her and “forcing her deeper into a bunker where she blames herself,” writes ESPN’s Jason Whitlock. Others have (rightfully) pointed out that the continued re-airing of the two videos simply makes Janay’s “private shame” a “public spectacle,” and so she is “angry with the media.”
It is difficult for me to understand why Janay Rice has not only stayed with her husband but has also taken on a Perry Mason-like defense of his behavior. I also don’t want to believe that a woman whose partner knocked her out like she was Floyd Mayweather’s sparring partner could then stand by and loudly defend what most of us would consider to be defenseless behavior. Is Janay Palmer afraid but still feeling a lot of love for her “wronged” husband? Is she really a victim because she chooses to stay? Why are we now focusing on her and not on her husband who put her in this situation by knocking her out cold in an elevator on that February evening?
I want to stand in judgment of Janay Rice, and I want to question her motives for staying with—and then marrying—her abuser. Like my friend Brenda Ford, I, too, wondered if Janay Rice defended her husband only because she didn’t want to give up the money and fame that go along with being “the wife of a super bowl champion.” “Really, though,” Brenda told me, “Janay Rice has some sort of responsibility to other abused women to get out.” Whether or not Janay has a responsibility to other women is debatable, but she certainly has some to herself and to her daughter. If you’re wondering why women stay in abusive relationships, just search the Twitter hashtag #whyistayed, and your eyes will be widely opened like mine were.
The fact of the matter is that lots of women stay in abusive relationships for reasons that many of us will never be able to fathom, and I hope this terrible situation causes society to more deeply examine why women stay with abusive men and how to help them leave when domestic violence happens. The sad reality is that we (still) live in a patriarchal society that tells too many women that it’s better to stay in an abusive relationship than to be alone, and we need to do a better job of showing women that being alone is better than being with a man who hits you.
So, we can continue to blame Roger Goodell for originally only suspending Ray Rice for two games and the Baltimore Ravens for not suspending him at all until TMZ released the second video, and we can continue focusing our efforts on what Roger Goodell knew and when he knew it and whether or not he should be fired from his job as NFL commissioner. When we do this, however, we simply deflect from the real issues at hand—that there are too many instances of domestic violence in the NFL and in our own communities and that too many people minimize these incidents by making excuses for the abuser’s behavior.
One of my former students wrote on his Facebook wall that he hoped Ray Rice wins his appeal of the NFL’s indefinite suspension because Rice has “already admitted to his wrongs, told the commissioner about the incident, cooperated with the authorities and the league as well as entered an intervention program.” I probably don’t have to tell you that the person who wrote this is a man. I suggested to my student that he would be fired from his job if he did that to his wife, and another woman commented that Ray Rice had simply sown the consequences of his actions.
Though my student did acknowledge that Rice was “wrong” for what he did to his wife, he believes that Rice has “paid his debt to society.” Unfortunately, too many men think that an NFL player simply apologizing for knocking a woman out and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator and then entering a deferred adjudication program after being arrested means that his “debt to society” has been paid. While I am not in charge of deciding when Ray Rice has been punished enough (though I’d gladly take on this role), losing his job as a running back for the Baltimore Ravens and being indefinitely suspended from the NFL seems to be a judicious and fair beginning.
It perplexes me, too, that so many women support Ray Rice and that they also believe that he has been punished “too much,” and perhaps this says more about the bizarre and/or curious state of male and female relationships in this nation than most of us realized. Before TMZ released the second video, two female students in two different classes argued that perhaps Janay Rice had hit Ray Rice first and “that’s why he responded the way he did.” One black female student even said, “You know how crazy and out of control we black women can get, and if it means he has to hit us to make us stop, oh well.” When I suggested to her that a real man would NEVER hit a woman even if that woman hit him first, my student said, “Well, if she comes at him like a man, he has a right to hit her like a man.” For one of the few times in my teaching career, I was left speechless. It makes me sad that some black women believe this.
Has domestic violence become so normalized in American culture that people are not embarrassed to defend a man who has been caught on video beating, knocking unconscious, and then dragging his fiancée from an elevator? Why has so much of folks’ antipathy for what Ray Rice did to Janay Palmer shifted to the NFL’s indefinite suspension of Rice and whether or not Roger Goodell is fit to continue his job as NFL commissioner? Why is there ever an instance where it’s “permissible” for a man to hit a woman, especially when that man is a strong and muscular NFL running back?
Anne C. Osborne, co-author of the forthcoming book Female Fans of the NFL: Taking Their Place in the Stands, said that the Ravens’ decision to cut Ray Rice was “good for the team, good for the league, and good for women.” “They are taking a stand, and he is a valuable player to lose,” Osborne said. “That is good news for everybody. It’s not just good news for women. That culture of violence, everyone loses. Good for them.”
What will really be good for society is the day when women no longer feel the need to stay in a relationship after domestic violence has occurred. This isn’t so much about Roger Goodell, the NFL, and the Baltimore Ravens; it’s about empowering women like Janay Rice to leave the men who brutalize them. It’s about not defending the indefensible, even when the batterer apologizes and says he’s going to get help. Statistics show that one in four women will be victims of domestic abuse; it’s time we teach women to respect themselves enough to walk away without apologizing for the abuser or for leaving.
Last Thursday night, before the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers football game, CBS’s James Brown—host of “The NFL Today” on CBS and “Inside the NFL” on Showtime—looked directly into the camera and asked viewers in a 90-second monologue if it “wouldn’t be more productive if this collective outrage…could be channeled to truly hear and address the long-suffering cries for help by so many women.” “And as they said,” he continued, “do something about it? Like an on-going education of men about what healthy, respectful manhood is about.”
Indeed, a real man never hits a woman no matter what that woman might first do to him, and although Janay Rice may not consider herself a victim, millions of women in this country are.