BY: JOSIE FARINELLI
From dangerous concussions to questionable team names, the National Football League is no stranger to controversy. Arguably, the least shocking news about Ray Rice’s assault case is the NFL’s mishandling of the situation. The story is familiar to anyone who has turned on a TV over the past month: on February 19, 2014, video surfaced on TMZ of Rice dragging his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer’s, unconscious body out of an elevator.1 Police later revealed that Palmer was limp in the elevator because Rice had knocked her unconscious.2 While the NFL suspended Rice for two games in August, the organization waited until September (only after the full surveillance video with Rice punching Palmer surfaced and the Baltimore Ravens released him from his contract) to suspend Rice from the league indefinitely.3 There are a number of issues one can take with how the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL have handled this situation, but there is cause for great concern about the way Janay Rice has been portrayed in the media.
On May 23, 2014, the Baltimore Ravens continued their damage control campaign by staging a press conference where Ray and Janay Rice could officially apologize.4 The Baltimore Ravens’ official Twitter account was live-tweeting the event and issued a now-deleted tweet (though it remained posted on their account for months) that read: “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.”5 The situation was not altogether unfamiliar. Almost every politician caught in an affair has their partner stand dutifully by their side as they issue a public apology; however, those partners never take to the microphone to apologize for the role they played in the politician’s infidelity. Shockingly, Janay Rice, whether by her own volition or through coercion from a number of interested parties, apologized in front of her daughter and the world for the part she took in getting knocked out and then dragged from an elevator at the hands of her then fiancé.
In the months since Ray and Janay were arrested for the assault, people have come to Janay’s defense by applauding her for the “strength of [her] bond” with her husband and urging the public to allow them to deal with the incident in private.6 One fan who was among a great number of men and women dressed in Rice’s jersey for the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, stated that “I don’t agree with domestic violence, but she’s still with him, so obviously it wasn’t that big of a deal.”7 Overwhelmingly, men and women alike have criticized her (even going so far as to categorize her abuse as deserved) for her quickness to forgive Ray, marry him, and stand by his side through it all.8 This victim-blaming is all too familiar. Rihanna went back to her abuser, Chris Brown, and the world shrugged; many thought that if she was willing to go back to someone who had hurt her in the past, she was, at the very least, partly to blame for any potential abusive outcome.9
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by a partner each year10 and domestic violence is one of the most under-reported crimes.11 Maybe Janay Rice was truly sorry and decided herself to apologize. Regardless of whether her apology was coerced or a product of victim-blaming itself, the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL should have exercised their social responsibility to clarify that domestic violence and abuse is never the victim’s fault. Enabling Janay to publicly shoulder some of the fault by staging the press conference and tweeting her apology has only fanned the flames of public confusion and misdirected blameworthiness.
If we allow high-profile victims of abuse to be touted as deserving, stupid, or equally at fault, it does nothing but encourage the millions of abused women and men to remain silent for fear of being blamed. If we continue to blame Rihanna just as much as Chris Brown, or Janay just as much as Ray, what kind of message are we sending to men and women everywhere about respectful and responsible relationships?
1 Louis Bien, A Complete Timeline of the Ray Rice Assault Case, SB NATION (Sept, 15, 2014, 2:47 PM), http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2014/5/23/5744964/ray-rice-arrest-assault-statement-apology-ravens.
4 Ryan Van Bibber, Ray Rice is an Asshole and the Ravens Couldn’t Care Less, SB NATION (May 23, 2014, 5:00 PM), http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2014/5/23/5745888/ray-rice-wife-apology-assault-domestic-violence-ravens.
6 Michael E. White, Gawking, Judgmental Public Should Leave Ray and Janay Rice Alone, THE BOSTON GLOBE (Sept. 16, 2014) http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2014/09/15/gawking-judgmental-public-should-leave-ray-and-janay-rice-alone/FzxlLwEMsQM9ZNpDjV7pbL/story.html#comments.
7 Ravens Fans, Men and Women, Wear Jerseys in Support of Ray Rice, CBS NEW YORK (Sept. 12, 2014, 8:40 AM) http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2014/09/12/ravens-fans-men-and-women-wear-no-27-in-support-of-ray-rice/.
8See Amy Zimmerman, Why We’re so Hard on Janay Rice and other Celebrity Survivors of Abuse, THE DAILY BEAST (Sept. 5, 2014) http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/15/why-we-re-so-hard-on-janay-rice-and-celebrity-survivors-of-abuse.html.
10 PUBLIC POLICY OFFICE, NATIONAL COALTION AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, DOMESTIC VIOLENCE FACTS (2004-2011) citing CENTERSFOR DISEASE CONTROLAND PREVENTION, NATIONAL CENTERFOR INJURY PREVENTIONAND CONTROL, COSTSOF INTIMATE PARTNER VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMENIN THE UNITED STATES (2003).
11 Id. citing U.S. DEP’TOF JUSTICE, BUREAUOF JUSTICE STATISTICS, CRIMINAL VICTIMIZATION (2003).
Josephine R. Farinelli is a 2016 Staff Editor of the Race and Social Justice Law Review.