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Getting it Right?

I confessed my enjoyment of football last year when the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl. I also understand that football (and the National Football League) is a huge part of the fabric of American culture, for better and for worse. It is certainly a primary factor in the socialization of boys and men in our society. So, yes, I do read the sports page every day. Sometimes a story jumps from the sports page to the front page. This seems to be the case with the Ray Rice story.

WARNING: The video referenced here is violent and disturbing.

I confessed my enjoyment of football last year when the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl.  I also understand that football (and the National Football League) is a huge part of the fabric of American culture, for better and for worse. It is certainly  a primary factor in the socialization of boys and men in our society.  So, yes, I do read the sports page every day.  Sometimes a story jumps from the sports page to the front page.  This seems to be the case with the Ray Rice story.

Twenty years ago, I served on the National Advisory Committee for the Office on Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice. The Committee was formed to support implementation of the Violence Against Women Act. Various sectors of the community were represented there, including a representative from the NFL. He was an NFL staff member and former player. We engaged in wide ranging discussions about how to address violence against women. I recall that the NFL rep was not resistant or obstructive; he just didn’t have a clue.

So here we are twenty years into a national effort to address domestic violence and suddenly the NFL is at the center of the discussion. Last month, Ray Rice, a player for the Baltimore Ravens, was suspended for two games after a videotape went public, showing him dragging his unconscious fiancé out of a hotel elevator. In response to a firestorm of criticism, Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, apologized [“I didn’t get it right.”] and then proceeded to issue a strong new policy on domestic violence after consulting with domestic violence experts.

It’s worth reading his letter, which explains the new policy. It is a very strong institutional response. If implemented consistently, this policy can help change a male culture in which players’ misconduct has been minimized and excused with virtually no consequences for years.

Yesterday another version of the video of Ray Rice battering his fiancé, Janay Palmer, emerged.  This one shows what happened in the elevator when he assaulted her, before he dragged her out of the elevator. Rice has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL and let go by his team, the Ravens. Now people are really upset because we have witnessed Rice actually knock her out. I find this somewhat curious. What did people think had gone on in the elevator before we saw him drag her out?

The media and pundit response is focused on Goodell, the NFL, and prosecutors asking, “what did they see and when did they see it?”  I am actually more interested in the second video itself and what it reveals. Watch the video; it is disturbing, but watch the whole thing. After Rice knocks Janay out, he drags her part way out of the elevator and leaves her lying on the floor with her legs splayed. A man, who looks like a hotel employee, approaches and stands over her while speaking into a microphone. Rice remains standing over her. Someone else approaches in the hall and stands staring at her. Another person approaches and stands by. Still no one has come to Janay’s aid. Finally a woman walks by and stops. She attends to Janay, comforting her and helping her get up. Rice tries to take Janay’s arm but she pushes him away.

Who was the neighbor to Janay?  (Luke 10:29-37)

In Jesus’ telling of the story of the injured man by the side of the road, he names the bystanders who saw but passed by and did nothing. Then he names the Samaritan (who was an outsider) as the person who stops and attends to the injured man. Jesus asks, “Who was the neighbor to this victim?”

The bystander is the 3rd party in this domestic violence drama, especially since this particular incident took place in public. I would bet that the people who stopped to stare at that scene but did nothing were thinking, “Uh-oh; this is probably a domestic thing and I don’t want to get involved.” The message to Janay is, “You are alone; don’t expect any help here.” The message to Ray is, “Don’t worry; nobody is going to get between you and your woman.”

In the end, it doesn’t matter how tough the NFL policy is or how strong the laws are. Until we as bystanders step up, until we are a “neighbor” to the victim of domestic violence, until we are willing to call out the one who put her on the floor and insure that there are consequences to that action, we will still be having this same conversation twenty years from now.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
www.FaithTrustInstitute.org
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Getting it Right?

Posted by Yvonne DeVaughn at Sep 10, 2014 06:00 PM
Thank you for your voice on this matter Marie. It is my hope and prayer that this terrible and sorrowful event becomes a catalyst for more change around the age-old problem of domestic violence. I know that you know that I totally agree that there is never an excuse for domestic violence. My big concern is will the NFL's policy of no tolerance (which it should and must have!) drive incidents to be unreported and become even more underground since "going public" will have such financial and life-style consequences on the victims as well as the perpetrators? This is truly a conundrum. Irregardless, the NFL has taken a step in the right direction.

Yes!

Posted by Kari at Sep 10, 2014 06:00 PM
Thank you for this! I haven't (and won't) watch the video since I know I would find it too disturbing, but I am so often amazed at our cultural bias toward independence that leads us to either walk right by or simply stand and gawk when there is another person in distress. The more time and energy we spend teaching our children about compassion and interconnectedness, the less likely we are to see scenes like this one. When we can empathize with anyone regardless of their life situation, we are more likely to step in and treat them humanely.

Ray Rice nd the NFL

Posted by Priscilla at Sep 10, 2014 06:01 PM
I am proud that the NFL took this incident to heart and banned Ray Rice. He needs to be accountable not only for the abuse, but also for projecting an image to boys and girls who have held him in such high esteem. Violencence in our society is rampant and must be stopped. Cheers to the woman who helped Janay. That compassion takes courage! Prayers for all.

Rice's wife

Posted by Beverley Burlock at Sep 10, 2014 07:24 PM
And, how how sad, what horrible evidence of how VERY far yet we have to go in educating about domestic abuse, is his wife's now coming to his defence, blaming the media for ruining their lives and proclaiming they will show the world what love really is.
Love involves being knocked unconscious?
The very fact that she actually married him AFTER that indicates what a low opinion she has of herself and what low value she places on herself.
I find that even more tragic, in a sense, than the assault.
SIGH

Ray Rice column

Posted by Roger A. Canaff at Sep 12, 2014 04:07 PM
Wonderful analysis! The analogy to the Good Samaritan is so poignant. Great work, Dr.

Appreciation

Posted by Mary E. Hunt at Oct 02, 2014 07:59 PM
I appreciate this piece, Marie. As I watched the video I had the same question--what were they people thinking? Is it so normal to see a lying on the floor being dragged by her companion that people don't react? What would have happened to her if the woman had not happened to walk by? Does the hotel see this so often that the employee took it as routine? Not pretty scenarios to ponder but part of the reality.
Onward with gratitude, MEH