Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On Ray and Janay Rice

Let me first say that I have never been beaten up by a husband or boyfriend, nor even been verbally abused by one.  I’m not claiming this as a badge of honor, merely stating a fact that has more to do with my lily-white suburban upbringing combined with my personal cussedness, than with any feminist “don’t tread on me” philosophy.  Had I grown up in a different culture, even a different town or neighborhood, I might be different.

So I won't set myself up as judge and jury over women who DO become involved with abusers.  Though I don’t understand it or have any personal experience with it, I know the psychology of battered women is complicated.  I know the abuse can escalate so subtly that even women who swore they would never be in abusive relationships suddenly find themselves trapped, with nowhere to go and nowhere to hide.  Many women are attracted to men who project a strong physical image…perhaps they are looking for a protector.  Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between a man who uses his physical prowess to protect, and one who uses it to control.  In his mind, they might be one and the same. 

The Ray Rice case has fostered a public debate about domestic violence and society’s role in preventing it.  Sadly, if you listen to the press releases and tweets purportedly put out by Janay Rice, this whole episode is none of anyone’s business but hers and her now-husband’s. 

…No one knows the pain that the media and unwanted [opinions] from the public has cause my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. …THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow and show the world what real love is!

To a certain extent, she’s right.  The intimate details of their relationship SHOULD be between herself and her husband.  And they would be, if this couple were John and Jane Doe who lived down the street.  But there are two complicating factors here:  1.)  she and her then-fiancé played out their drama in front of cameras in a public place; and 2.)  her husband’s line of work basically amounts to accepting a ridiculous amount of money to be on constant public display. 

Ray Rice doesn’t (didn’t) get paid a king’s ransom to play football.  He got rich so people could watch him play football.  And watch him do everything else he does that isn’t behind firmly closed doors with no cameras present.  Someone needs to make it clear to these young men, and their spouses, that they are selling not only their athletic skills but their rights to any kind of anonymity or autonomy when they are in public. 

And so it should be.  Because even though it’s been more than twenty years since Charles Barkley famously claimed that “I am not a role model,” the brutal fact is that there are and always will be fans out there who will idolize and emulate these famous athletes.  In our present twisted pop culture, in fact, it seems that the worse the behavior of any given sports star, the more popular, mimicked and rich he becomes.

So what would I say to Janay Rice?  That perhaps whatever “good” she thinks she is drawing from the relationship—be it emotional or fiscal—might not be worth living every day with the knowledge that this man you love could easily seriously hurt or kill you, and has demonstrated his apparent willingness to do so in full view of the public?  That “real love” does not, CAN not exist alongside the constant threat of physical harm?  What would be the point?  She obviously truly believes she loves this man, he loves her, that what they have is real love, and that the outside world, rather than her husband’s fist, is responsible for the pain in her life. 

What I would say to Mrs. Rice is this:

In a different world, what goes on between you and your husband would be private.  No one else would have to know, no one would be involved, until they wheeled you out of the front door of your home on a gurney, with a sheet over your face.  As a private citizen, you would have that right.  And there are many women—TOO many—who claim that right, and come to precisely that end. 

But you and your husband are not “private citizens.”  You accept a lot of money to BE public figures.  To conduct your lives in front of God and everybody.  You may not like being a “role model,” but as the family of a professional athlete, it’s not a title you can accept or reject purely on your own say-so.  It is what it is.  People will watch you.  People will emulate you.  And if one girl follows your example and marries the man who put her in the hospital in the name of “real love,” and ends up in a body bag, it’s one too many. 

YOU may be willing to take that risk.  The rest of us are not.  Which is why the press, the Baltimore Ravens, the commissioner of the NFL, and the public had to step in and inflict the consequences upon behavior that can not by any stretch of the imagination be labeled acceptable, in public or in private. 

Undoubtedly, Ray Rice will get a second chance to play football somewhere.  If we know one thing about professional sports, it’s that some avaricious team owner—one who knows the voyeuristic American public is pathologically interested in witnessing a train wreck and will part with big bucks to do so—is always willing to take on the “bad boys.”  (Michael Vick, anyone?)  So, don’t worry, Janay.  All you need to do is bide your time and try and stretch that $15 million signing bonus a little thinner.  In a year or two or five, Ray will be back at the top of the NFL food chain.

I hope you live that long. 

(Image from               

1 comment:

  1. You make a number of really good points. I would add:

    Intimate Partner violence knows no cultural bounds, it affects many women (and some men) regardless of race, ethnicity, social economic status, education or any other criteria for human beings. Women are not raised in households that lend themselves to "finding" abusers. It happens - the man is all sweet and loving for a length of time and then the control begins to take over, slowly tearing down every fiber of confidence of the woman until she is completely controlled by the man because she has come to feel so devalued and unimportant. Smart, well educated women have found themselves in this position, and the struggle to rise up, reclaim one's value and get out is tough. But most of all, the getting out is all but impossible - the man finds you, beats you into submission, threatens your life, your children's lives, the lives of your parents, siblings, and friends. You live in total fear, you lose all independence - have no access to money or the ability to leave. Getting out takes profound planning, strategy, and secrecy. And even then you might be found and killed. It is ALL about power, control and entitlement - the man (usually) is 100% certain that he has the right to do this and be this way. Of course when he is remorseful, he is sweet and in the beginning some women really do believe that he will change and never do it again. But. He does. And as you say, it can end with the woman in a body bag.