Assessing Ray Rice & One of the Worst Episodes in NFL History
Almost as soon as the elevator door closes, Ray Rice says something to his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer. He steps back as he does, hitting her once, and retreats to the opposite side of the elevator. Infuriated, Janay lunges towards him, Ray meeting her with a left hook to the face that sends her head crashing against the hand rail, knocking her out. He stands stock still, looking down at her. Does he spit on her, as some have alleged? It’s not clear. When the elevator door opens, he drags out her unconscious body like a sack of potatoes. It’s a shocking and horrifying video, to be sure, but I can’t help thinking the same thing each time I watch it:
What did people think it looked like when a professional football player hit his fiancee in the face?
Since my first article on July 31, we’ve learned more about what happened on the night of February 15 in Atlantic City. Ray didn’t drag his wife through the lobby and into the elevator; the video released Monday shows they walked in together. If anything, the new footage is more damning – the attack looks premeditated. And while Ray told his Ravens teammates that he was defending himself, the elevator camera tells a different story. Still, ultimately the conclusion is the same: Ray Rice committed a heinous act of abuse against his then fiancee, now wife, Janay Rice. Rightfully so, this time around we’re hearing more about what all this media attention is doing to Janay. At long last, we’re looking past Ray Rice, the football player, and reporting about Janay Rice, the victim.
But we’re still not getting it right.
In a barely publicized report, Peter King unearthed that Janay made a desperate plea to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, insisting that, “the incident in the hotel elevator was a one-time event, and nothing physical had happened in their relationship before or since.” She urged Goodell, the source said, to not ruin Rice’s image and career with his sanctions. Why didn’t this receive more attention at the time it was reported, July 25? Shouldn’t her actions after the fact count for something?
It gets worse. Collectively, as a nation, she claims we’ve hurt her deeply, in a devastating and profound way. On her Instagram account today, Janay wrote, “No one knows the pain that [the] media & unwanted options 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.” She also adds, “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.”
In attempting to examine Ray Rice’s actions after this most recent video evidence, the questions become: Have we let our anger towards Ray override our compassion for Janay? Is our vitriol towards that attacker actually punishing the victim?
It’s starting to look that way.
Coverage of what happened in the elevator at the now closed Revel Casino and the ensuing aftermath harkens back to 2009, when Chris Brown slugged Rihanna in the face, and images of her bruised and battered face went viral. They were everywhere, even though Rihanna publicly requested that they not be spread or shared. Not for news reports, not for feminist causes, not for anything. They were private, but no one listened. Similarly, by watching the video, passing judgment, and then moving on, we’re appropriating what was one of the worst moments in Janay’s life, and holding court as we discuss it.
There’s a reason I haven’t attached a link to the video. You shouldn’t watch it. If you feel the need to lash out, direct your anger towards those that deserve it: the NFL, and the Ravens organization. What happened between Ray and Janay should stay between them. But the NFL’s negligence in collecting the evidence, and their ensuing slap on the wrist in punishing Ray was public dismissal of domestic violence on the national stage. It was an inexcusable misstep, and Roger Goodell may pay for it with his job.
The Ravens, for their part, deserve much more than a slap on the wrist. On May 22, they tweeted, “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.” See what they did? Subtly, slyly, they’re blaming the victim. And they only just deleted that tweet days ago. Head Coach John Harbaugh, for his part, previously called the two game suspension “not a big deal” and said Ray was “a heckuva guy.”
Both the NFL and the Ravens, in their investigations, failed to collect the video from the casino elevator. According to TMZ, it was always available. Together, in unison, the NFL and the Ravens have delivered damaging blows to the fight against domestic violence. Will those responsible be fired? We’ll see. This is the media’s chance to actually do some good.