What We Have Learned From Ray Rice Case
The NFL's baffling July decision to issue a two-game suspension to Ray Rice, apparently without looking at the video of Rice punching his then-fiancée inside an elevator in Atlantic City, New Jersey, raises a ton of issues. So let's touch on a few that stand out.
The videotape was shocking, but it shouldn't have been surprising. The NFL knew a tape of the inside of the elevator existed, and it knew Ray Rice struck Janay Rice (she is now his wife) with his hand because it was detailed in the police report. The previously released video showed Rice pulling her unconscious body out of the elevator. Given this set of facts, to not assume the worst -- that Rice delivered the knockout punch seen on the tape -- is extremely naive. Not including the additional tape in the investigation before issuing the two-game suspension is a complete lack of due diligence.
The NFL still has a number of domestic violence charges pending against players. Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, whose contract pays him $13.1 million this season, is awaiting a jury trial for an incident that allegedly includes throwing his girlfriend onto a futon covered in guns. A judge convicted him after a 10-hour trial, but the law gives him the right to appeal to a jury trial. Hardy's court date was initially slated for Nov. 17, the middle of the NFL season, but his attorney told The Associated Press that he was confident it would be moved. Days after the announcement of the NFL's new domestic violence policy, 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested for allegedly injuring his pregnant fiancée. The 49ers, who have said they have a zero-tolerance policy toward domestic violence, allowed McDonald to dress and play Sunday against the Cowboys, saying they need to allow for due process.
John Harbaugh came out and said the video changed everything for the Ravens on Monday and that they had to cut Rice. The Ravens' coach also said of Janay and Ray, "My hope is that they can make it work." How appropriate is it for a coach and team to advocate that the couple stays together after such a violent act? She decided to marry him afterward, but should it be the job of any employer to counsel a partner to stay with an abuser? It seems the employer's job is to do what's best for the team and for Ray Rice, but counseling should be about what is in Janay's best interest, as well.
Roger Goodell made $44.2 million in 2012 for representing NFL team owners. That's a lot of money, and it's partly because he is the focal point of criticism when things go wrong. He has taken a big hit by not fully investigating the Rice episode, but even worse, Goodell and the NFL didn't work to put a comprehensive domestic violence policy in place sooner despite numerous cases -- most tragically the murder of Kasandra Perkins by former Chiefs player Jovan Belcher, who then took his own life at the team facility.
Janay Rice put out a statement via social media Tuesday. It read in part: "To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE!" Some are blaming Janay for staying with Ray Rice despite the assault. Domestic violence is a complicated thing. Many women stay with abusers out of a sense of love or obligation or for the children, and no one wants to be a victim. Plenty of people deserve blame for their role in initially letting Ray Rice off the hook. Janay Rice is the wrong target.
One silver lining is the Twitter hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft. For people who haven't been around an abusive relationship, men and women telling their stories is an invaluable education about the complicated dynamics behind domestic abuse, love and dependence.
Before the tape came out, there was a lot of discussion about Janay Rice's role in the incident. The Ravens had a chair for her on stage at Ray Rice's initial news conference earlier this year, where she apologized for her role in the fight. The Ravens amplified that by tweeting it. A lot of people -- believe me, I heard from them on Twitter -- assumed the lowball two-game suspension must have been because the NFL saw the tape and knew she was culpable. The video doesn't bear that out at all, and it may be worth remembering the next time an abuser says he was defending himself.
Let's be clear: That video included no "new evidence." So how did the NFL decide to indefinitely suspend Ray Rice based on the release of a video? It's a reactionary move that should put the NFL Players Association on alert. I'm no Rice apologist, but the complete lack of process, coupled with discipline after the NFL botched the investigation, is a concern. I've said before, suspend Rice for the year because of the punch, not the video.
Keith Olbermann has a point. On Monday night, Olbermann called for a full investigation into how the Atlantic City prosecutor could have allowed Ray Rice to enter a pretrial diversionary program after landing such a devastating left hook to knock out his then-fiancée. Olbermann is right. The way domestic violence and sexual assault are dealt with by law enforcement nationwide is extremely uneven. Olbermann also called Goodell and Ravens officials "enablers" of domestic violence. It's worth noting that, at the time I write this, not all of those men have publicly addressed the contents of the video inside the elevator. Does that video really change things? Maybe, but it just makes incredibly clear what's been wrong all along.