I did what many sports fans did this morning: I watched that video of Ray Rice punching his wife in the face, rendering her unconscious in an elevator. It was quite a way to wake up, and it seems to have also woken up the Baltimore Ravens, the NFL, and, hopefully, Rice himself. That is why, on the one hand, I am glad that video got released, I am glad that I watched it, and I am glad the Ravens just terminated Rice’s contract, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. But did I — did we — really need to watch that video?

Did we not already know what happened inside that elevator? When the initial video was released, showing Rice dragging his fiancee out of an elevator the way a toddler might drag a blanket across the living room floor, was it at all a mystery as to what had happened moments before? Just weeks later, you might remember, Rice was found guilty of aggravated assault. Was that not enough evidence as to what transpired in the casino’s elevator that night?

Rice’s now-former teammates have come out today and said they no longer will support him as they once had, when they had believed he had acted in self-defense. That’s right: an anonymous Ravens player said they had once stood by Rice because he had told them the reason he punched his wife was because he felt threatened by her. They thought Rice — 5-foot-8 and about 220 pounds — could feel threatened by his wife, who appears to be 120 pounds, soaking wet. The NFL has latched on to this video being released as a chance to redeem themselves, or align their actions with public sentiment, hence why they have suspended him indefinitely after having previously suspended him for just two games.

The trouble is that it shouldn’t have taken us this second, far more graphic video, to make us all disgusted. Yes, there was general outrage when the first video came out. But how many people were calling for Rice’s head? Most seemed to think the NFL’s laughable two-game-suspension was, well, laughable, but perhaps others were skeptical: what really happened inside that elevator? And this is exactly the problem with domestic abuse, be it physical, sexual, or emotional: it happens out of the public eye, and therefore, is subject to wild conjecture that can somehow, sometimes produce a narrative that the unconscious woman being dragged from an elevator may have gotten what she deserved. Knowing that, how is a woman supposed to seek help and refuge from this type of behavior if she was not fortunate (but, of course, unfortunate) enough to have been beaten on a public security camera? People have to see it to be moved to the point of confronting what it is we are talking about here: a man hitting a woman.

I understand there is a flaw in this argument, namely that installing cameras in homes is not a practical solution to solving this problem. Not only would this be an obvious infringement on our unalienable privacies, but we could not possibly have enough cameras to capture all the domestic violence that takes place in this country. No, this incident was unique in that it happened in public, and on camera. That is what makes this a big deal: people now have visual evidence of the incorrigible act that is a man abusing a woman. But my question to you is: how was the first video not enough? How did we say to ourselves, and each other, “well, we will never know what happened inside that elevator”?

There are reports out there that the NFL had seen this second video when they handed Rice his two-game suspension. Those reports have sparked justifiable outrage. In fact, if that is true — and I have no reason to believe it is not, seeing as the NFL is a “non-profit” organization that chases money at the cost of honor, dignity, and truth — it further begs the question that all reasonable football fans are asking themselves right now: how can I possibly support this league with my money, time, and attention spent on things the NFL owns? Am I a part of this? Is the violent culture of the NFL — yes, the very reason we love football so much — partially responsible for the punch that knocked Janay Palmer unconscious? Ultimately, it was Ray Rice himself who made the decision to punch her, but I have trouble believing it was the first time it happened. I also have trouble believing Rice did not feel somewhat justified in his actions that night, a product of the entitlement particularly granted to male professional athletes in this country, but perhaps males in general. That is to say our fandom may not overtly endorse malice toward females, but that there may be a relationship between the two things.

Hopefully, this is a seminal moment that leads to change. Hopefully, enough of us can make our voices heard in saying: I love football, but I hate this shit. At the very least, the Ravens’ termination and the NFL’s indefinite suspension of Ray Rice have set a precedent for what might happen to you if you are caught on camera, punching a woman in the face, but that is obviously setting the bar ridiculously low. What is to be done now? Will the NFL show vague signs of major reform, far more progressive than the ones that were promised recently? Because this is a cultural issue — in American culture, football culture, machismo culture, etc. –not an isolated event.

At the end of the day, this is not about football. This is about domestic abuse, male entitlement, and the unresponsive nature of the wealthy, generally homogenous population that creates and enforces rules that govern those things. This is not about Ray Rice punching Janay Palmer; this is about the countless times this type of thing has happened to ordinary women, off-camera. This is not about seeing a woman getting punched in the face and knowing it is time to take action because it will be a public relations nightmare for your grossly wealthy non-profit; this is about seeing an unconscious woman getting dragged by her fiancee out of an elevator and not thinking, “well, maybe it was self-defense.”

This is about common sense.


Photo by Paul Gardner.