This is where we are on domestic violence.
Ray Rice hit his fiancée in an Atlantic City casino elevator last Valentine’s Day, and after a tearful confession got a two game suspension from the NFL . The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey accepted him into a pre-trial intervention program that will expunge his arrest record once he completes specific conditions and undergoes counseling. Like it never happened. Life for Rice went back to normal because he was “sorry” and a “good guy” with no history of violence (except on the job - the industry he competes in features at least a dozen violent, felonious assaults on every play as part of its DNA). He married his fiancée who apologized for her role in the “incident”, and some around the league even offered how it was a private matter - that they were both probably at fault.
Except video footage surfaced that shows Rice hitting Janay Palmer with the same kind of punch Tommy “Hitman” Hearns used to bang into his opponents in the ring and everything suddenly changed. The Ravens terminated his contract and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. The NFL claimed it did not see the video footage when it imposed its two game suspension but that’s a lame excuse. Why does it take a video to suddenly increase the awareness of domestic violence and its brutality? It happens whether it’s on video or not. Millions of DV victims don’t have video footage to back up their claims – does that make the crimes committed against them any less brutal or vicious?
What about the facts?
The NFL had a chance to act swiftly months ago and send a message to its players and fans that domestic violence will not be tolerated. No excuses. No reasons. When Commissioner Roger Goodell gave Ben Roethlisberger a six game suspension for sexually assaulting a 20 year old he wrote, “The Personal Conduct Policy makes it clear that I may impose discipline even where the conduct does not result in conviction of a crime, as, for example when the conduct imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person”.
Michael Vick got 2 years for his involvement with a dog-fighting ring and Josh Gordon was suspended 16 games for repeated marijuana offenses. Hell- Plaxico Burress got 4 games for shooting himself in the leg. Initial penalty for hitting a woman: 2 games.
What Rice did was terribly wrong and the NFL needed to take a stronger stand much earlier. They blew it and have been scrambling to get it right ever since.
I hope Rice’s indefinite suspension was done for the right reasons and not because this is a public relations horror show for a business filled with too many employees – players, coaches, and owners alike- committing criminal acts. That it was done to send a message to players and fans that DV is wrong – not to send a message to advertisers and TV partners that their financial investment in the league is safe.
We have a lot to learn and a lot to change before the issue of domestic violence disappears. We need to take a hard look at the way we treat women in music, literature, and film, and change that narrative. We need to change policies and procedures that allow pre-trial intervention for violent acts, no matter who commits them or what the circumstances. The same kind of policies that reduce felonies to misdemeanors. One in Four women are victims of domestic violence or dating abuse. We need to stand up and protect each other – we can’t keep turning away.
There is no reason for domestic violence. The NFL is finally recognizing that fact. We as a society – and mostly men in particular – still have a long way to go.