Is Ray Rice’s Video a Game-Changer?

The reality of domestic abuse gets harder to deny.


Star NFL running back Ray Rice’s assault on his then-fiancée/now-wife is old news. He was arrested in February, and plea-bargained from criminal charges down to court-supervised counseling. (Emily Bazelon explains: “when a victim refuses to cooperate with the prosecution, the calculus for prosecutors shifts away from trial and conviction.”) Way back then, TMZ released a video showing Rice dragging the unconscious mother-of-his-daughter out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino.

The NFL suspended him for two games, a punishment that raised a furor in light of the season-long suspension of receiver Josh Gordon for “substance abuse”, presumably marijuana. The NFL claimed it was bound by its previous policies, which it changed so that any future domestic violence incident would draw at least a six-game suspension. (But abusers keep playing while their cases work through the legal system.)

The Rice family.

None of that is new. But this week TMZ released a video of what happened inside the elevator. In it, we see Rice throw the punch that knocked Janay Palmer out. In an abstract sense, the new video didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know: We knew he knocked her out, we just hadn’t seen him do it. It shouldn’t have changed anything.

But it did. Almost immediately, the Baltimore Ravens released Rice, who otherwise would have been their main ball-carrier when his original suspension ended next week. The NFL then made his suspension “indefinite”, and New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft speculated that Rice would never play in the NFL again.

One of the most striking reactions came from ESPN analyst and former player Mark Schlereth, who nearly dissolved into tears as he imagined a player in his own locker room, someone he would have identified with and felt loyal to, doing such a thing. It’s worth watching.

[The video] put a face to domestic violence. I’m not saying Ray Rice’s face, I’m saying the act of domestic violence. Because it was so shocking. And as the father of two daughters, and the [grand]father of a granddaughter, it was frightening for me to see that. The violence that occurred, the callous nature with which that violence occurred … I guess I had never really gone through that mentally before, to really understand what that looks like. And that put it together for me, of how vicious in nature this is.

I’m sure a lot of women are shaking their heads in a well-duh sort of way: You discovered that domestic abuse is callous and vicious? Your Nobel Prize is in the mail, Mark.

But if Schlereth is typical of a larger group of men — and I believe he is — then the Rice video may be a tipping point in the public discussion of domestic violence. Until now, when men have heard accounts of domestic violence, a lot of us have at some level empathized with the abuser, as if he might be like us on a really bad day. Just as an ordinary man might snap in the middle of an argument and say something he doesn’t mean and later regrets, or maybe act out physically by slamming a door or punching a wall, maybe an abuser does something reflexive that — unintentionally, almost accidentally — results in physical harm.

That’s obviously not what happens in this video. Rice just decks his fiancée. Yeah, they are tussling physically, but the much larger and stronger Rice could easily have fended off Palmer’s blows or held her wrists and waited for her to calm down. Instead, he knocks her out, then looks down at her limp body as if he’s seen all this before.

Witnessing that reality could significantly change the way men listen to accounts of domestic violence. Like Schlereth, many men had “never really gone through it mentally before”, and now they have. Now they understand viscerally that this isn’t something any man might have done on a sufficiently bad day. The man in this video doesn’t deserve a single ounce of our sympathy.

Related short notes

Not to say that there aren’t still some men who will make excuses for Ray Rice. And even some women.


Meanwhile, women have been writing about Janay Palmer, who is now Janay Rice. An anonymous writer on The Frisky wrote “Why I Married My Abuser“.

when I saw the footage of ex-Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée Janay Palmer, I wasn’t surprised that she was now his wife. It isn’t — as many of the commenters on the original TMZ video have said — “all about the money,” or “she doesn’t care about taking a punch,” and it’s especially not that “she is telling all women it’s okay for your man to beat you.”

… It’s beyond silly to say that any woman who is getting smacked around thinks it’s acceptable to be smacked around. No one knows better than a woman who is being abused that it is wrong. Not leaving isn’t the same as consent. I stayed because I was traumatized and isolated. I believed that Hank really loved me and that no man with less passion/ anger (those words were conflated for me) would ever love me like him.

There’s a whole Twitter feed of stories like this: #WhyIStayed. And a companion: #WhyILeft. As with #YesAllWomen, it’s not abstract argument, it’s people telling their stories. The sheer accumulation of them is hard to explain away.


The NFL and the Ravens came out looking really bad — more interested in managing a PR problem than anything else. They claim they didn’t see the inside-the-elevator video until it became public, but that seems doubtful. Schlereth certainly didn’t buy it:

A Rice souvenir repurposed.

Protecting the shield means that we’re supposed to honor and understand the privilege of playing in the league, not supposed to cover up our mistakes and accept those. And that’s where the NFL in my mind is really letting me down, and let every guy who plays in this league down. Because I can’t imagine saying “No, we don’t have access to that video” and you saying, “OK, well, that’s good enough for me. We’ll move forward.” That’s unacceptable.

And besides, what the video changed is the depth of the public anger, not our factual understanding of what happened.


Jon Stewart’s reaction is also worth watching.


If you’re looking for a male hero in this story, I propose this girl’s Dad.

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Comments

  • Chris Tierney  On September 15, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    I’m conflicted about this. The constant replaying of the video on all the networks feels to me like a re-victimization of Janay Rice—forcing her to relive her assault repeatedly in public, making her a target for people to criticize, using her to improve ratings and page views. I wish the networks had reported on the release of the tape without feeling the need to show it.

    Since that horse is already out of the barn, I can see your point—that this might drive home to men the reality of domestic violence—as a silver lining. But I wish people would use their imaginations and empathy to arrive at that conclusion themselves, without having to sacrifice a woman for their edification.

    • weeklysift  On September 15, 2014 at 6:16 pm

      I see your point about Janay Rice. But there’s a reflex I see in myself, and I’m not sure how universal it is, but it extends a long way. I find it difficult to credit horrible things that I never see.

      If there weren’t pictures of the Holocaust, I’d probably be like, “Yeah, it was bad. But it couldn’t have been THAT bad.” People even do that with slavery.

      • Chris Tierney  On September 16, 2014 at 9:44 am

        That’s a good point. Thinking about your example of the Holocaust: I don’t have the same negative reaction to people showing pictures of that, and I agree with you that it helps fight the perception that “it wasn’t _that_ bad.” (Likewise with photos of lynchings.)

        So maybe my discomfort is more with the way the Rice video is being shown (e.g. looping in the background while people argue) than with the fact that it’s being shown at all. I realize that’s a generalization, and not everyone is airing it the same way.

  • Blenda George  On September 16, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    Many men and women do not understand why a woman who is being abused psychologically and/or physically stays with the abuser. What they don’t understand is how the abuser degrades her daily until she thinks she is incapable of taking care or herself or her children and no one else will love her or take care of her. She worries that no employer will hire her etc.I am speaking from experience and as a retired mental health counselor.

Trackbacks

  • By Discernable Gains | The Weekly Sift on September 15, 2014 at 10:50 am

    […] This week’s featured articles are “Infrastructure, Suburbs, and the Long Descent to Ferguson” and “Is Ray Rice’s Video a Game-Changer?“. […]

  • By The Yearly Sift: 2014 | The Weekly Sift on December 29, 2014 at 8:33 am

    […] That piece later got picked up by UU World magazine. Male entitlement was the focus of my review of Angry White Men. Domestic violence was the subject of “Is Ray Rice’s Video a Game-Changer?“ […]

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