Why does Janay Rice stay?

Dear Dwonna:

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?




Dear Cara:

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.

ray and janay

Ray Rice and the NFL’s policy on domestic violence

Dear Dwonna:

I know you’re a lifelong sports fan and that you’re a big fan of the Chicago Bears. You’ve been really quiet on the Ray Rice situation, and now that Roger Goodell has announced stiffer penalties for players who are convicted of domestic violence, I would like to know your opinions on this.




Dear Vicki:

Here’s a little background for those who are unfamiliar with Ray Rice and his assault on Janay (Palmer) Rice, his fiancée at the time.

On February 15, 2014, a surveillance video captured Ray Rice—a running back for the Baltimore Ravens—dragging his unconscious fiancée from an elevator at Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. A “sparse” arrest summons charged Ray with committing an assault by “attempting to cause bodily injury to J. Palmer, specifically by striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious.” Neither Palmer nor Rice requested medical attention, and both were arrested and charged with simple assault. It’s not clear why police arrested Palmer, and Ray Rice’s attorney described the incident as a “minor physical altercation.”

Although the video TMZ obtained four days later only showed the aftermath of the incident between the couple, viewers could see Rice lifting and dragging an unconscious Palmer by her arms out of the elevator and “laying her on the floor.” One witness to the assault said that Rice threw an “uppercut,” and another person said that Rice hit Palmer “like he [would punch] a guy.”

On March 27, 2014, a grand jury indicted Ray Rice for third-degree aggravated assault for “allegedly striking Palmer unconscious.” The two married the following day, and according to the Baltimore Sun, the couple had planned a summer wedding before “moving the date up without a public explanation.” Another source said that the March ceremony “had been planned for a couple of weeks.”

On May 23—almost two months after the assault at the casino—Ray Rice and Janay Palmer Rice publically spoke for the first time on what happened in Atlantic City. Appearing at a news conference with his mother and their daughter, and Ray Rice apologized for “the situation my wife and I were in,” and he promised that he was “working every day to be a father, a better husband and a better role model.” “I failed miserably,” Ray Rice said. “but I wouldn’t call myself a failure cause I’m working myself back up.” Janay Rice, too, apologized “for her role in that night,” though simple assault charges against her were eventually dropped.

Prosecutors eventually offered Ray Rice a plea deal that would have spared him jail time, placed him on probation for one year, and required him to attend anger management counseling. Rice rejected this deal, and instead he pleaded not guilty and was accepted into a diversionary program for a first-time offenders program that could allow him to clear his record of charges “in as few as six months.” Rice’s attorney told reporters that Rice must also stay out of trouble for the next year and continue to receive family counseling with his wife, who had written a letter in support of him. “We’re very happy with the result,” Rice’s attorney said. Rice “will now be able to move forward with his life, and he and Janay are looking forward to putting this behind them.”

On July 24, the NFL announced that it was suspending Ray Rice for the first two games of the 2014 season under the league’s personal conduct policy, telling Rice that the punishment “comes with the expectation” that he will “continue with his counseling.” “I believe that you are sincere in your desire to learn from this matter and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in his letter to Rice. “I am now focused on your actions and expect you to demonstrate by those actions that you are prepared to fulfill those expectations.”

Many people were, rightfully so, outraged at the light punishment that Roger Goodell meted out to Rice, who said in response to criticism that the NFL has a “very firm policy that domestic violence is not acceptable in the NFL and that there will be consequences for that.” In contrast, the NFL suspended Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon for one year for his third violation of the NFL’s drug policy for smoking pot, Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker was suspended for four games for testing positive for amphetamines, and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsey was suspended for six games and fined $500,000 after pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated. Get caught smoking pot for the third time? One year. Knocking out cold and then dragging your unconscious fiancée from an elevator? Two games. The NFL should have used more common sense when meting out punishments so that smoking pot didn’t warrant a stiffer punishment than beating up your woman.

Even ESPN seems to have more sense than the NFL, as the company suspended “First Take” co-host Stephen A. Smith for a week after saying on his show—in response to the Ray Rice incident—that women should make sure that they “don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions” from a man who might later abuse them. No matter how much a woman might “provoke” her significant other, a REAL man never puts his hands on a woman. Ever. A REAL man walks away. Every. Single. Time. That’s what Stephen A. Smith should have been telling listeners.

After weeks of criticism—mostly because of the apparent discrepancy between “suspensions that result from violations of the league’s drug policy, versus those incurred through the code of personal conduct”—Commissioner Roger Goodell announced sweeping changes to the Personal Conduct Policy. In a letter to NFL owners last week, Goodell said that violations of the Personal Conduct Policy “regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense.” A second offense, Goodell announced, will “result in banishment from the NFL for at least one year,” and although a person can petition for reinstatement after one year, “there will be no presumption or assurance that the petition will be granted.” This policy applies to all NFL personnel and not just players.

Goodell then apologized for how the NFL handled Ray Rice’s punishment, acknowledging that the league had “allowed” their “standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue.” The commissioner also admitted that his “disciplinary decision” led many people to “question…whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families.” “I didn’t get it right,” Goodell writes, “Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

New York Giants president Jim Mara said that he was “100 percent supportive of the new policy” and that the NFL needed to “make a stand and be much tougher on domestic violence.” Some people questioned whether or not Goodell had changed his stance because of the public outcry, but it really does not matter why he decided to toughen the NFL’s punishment for those who commit acts of domestic violence. Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said that although she was “personally disappointed in the Rice suspension,” her goal was to “figure out how to make it right.” “I think that whatever moves a business or an entity in the right direction on this issue is good movement,” she said.

I agree with Kim Bundy that any time an organization does the right thing it is a good thing, and it’s not necessarily our job to question their motives. As Gloria Steinem said, “Whenever one person stands up and says, ‘Wait a minute, this is wrong,’ it helps other people do the same.” In a sport where violence is epidemic and where players often have difficulty turning off this violence when they walk off the field at the end of a game, we should applaud the NFL for establishing stricter punishments for those who are involved in domestic violence incidents.

The NFL has appropriately articulated to its players and employees that domestic violence will no longer be tolerated and that incidents will be swiftly adjudicated, and I hope that they will also establish programs that teach players how to avoid domestic violence situations so that the public never has to witness a Ray Rice-like incident again. May the NFL’s bungling of the Ray Rice situation and the public’s subsequent outcry at his paltry suspension be the beginning of a more candid dialogue about the violence that too often happens between men and women because domestic violence is everyone’s problem, and love should never hurt.



On Monday, September 8, 2014, TMZ released the video that showed what happened in the elevator BEFORE Ray Rice dragged an unconscious Janay Palmer out of it. Here is a link to the video: http://digg.com/video/tmz-releases-video-of-ray-rice-knocking-out-his-fiancee.

Saying that the video is disturbing fails to capture the horror of what happened in that elevator, and hours after its release, the Baltimore Ravens terminated Ray Rice’s contract, thereby making the running back a free agent. Although the NFL says that they requested to see the video before ultimately suspending Rice for two games–many people question the veracity of this statement–once the video became public, the NFL indefinitely suspended Rice, leaving many to wonder if this is the end of Ray Rice’s NFL career.

Though it is easy to criticize Janay (Palmer) Rice for standing by–and one month later marrying–a man who would so brutally assault her, I applaud the Baltimore Ravens for loudly (albeit a little late) declaring that the organization will neither tolerate nor condone domestic violence.

Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton tweeted, “As players we must speak up. Stand up for what’s right. I don’t give a damn who u are or how much money you make. No place for this.” Many thanks to the Baltimore Ravens for finally doing what the NFL didn’t have the testicles to do in February when the video first became public–to protect those who are battered by the men who say they love them.


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