Ray Rice presents watershed moment for The Shield.
Earlier this week, the scourge of domestic violence pierced the consciousness of every man, woman and child in America. It was hard to miss hearing about or seeing the full video feed which showed Ray Rice striking his then fiancé, Janay Palmer, and dragging her unconscious body from an elevator.
Yes, Rice punched Palmer in the head, knocking her into a wall and out cold. Now we know. Now we’ve seen it. Yet why did we need to see it? More importantly, why did those in a position to hold Rice accountable for his actions need to see it?
Sadly, Palmer followed through on her intent to marry Rice. We don’t know what drove her to stay with a man who beat her, and we never will. It is not our place to judge her. Like us, Palmer has free will and she exercised it.
Domestic violence in America has taken center stage. This didn’t happen exclusively through the actions of Rice and the tolerance of Palmer. The under reaction from rudderless Baltimore Ravens leadership—Owner Steve Bisciotti, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Head Coach John Harbaugh—also helped to take us to this point.
And let’s not forget NFL Commissioner (for the moment) Roger Goodell. As noted here last month, Goodell has always projected a punishing presence to players, coaches and front offices whenever an infraction occurs. Goodell has meted out fines and suspensions with both hands. Now, having inexplicably chosen this horrific crime as the right instance to be lenient, he may get his well-deserved comeuppance.
Does anyone remember Jovan Belcher? In late 2012, the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker murdered the mother of his child, Kassandra Perkins. He then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and took his own life in front of Head Coach Romeo Crennel and General Manager Scott Pioli. How about Rae Caurruth? The Carolina Panthers wide receiver was convicted in 2001 of conspiring to commit the murder of Cherica Adams, who was eight months pregnant with his child at the time.
The week’s events have carried a powerful impact. Rice, metaphorically representing the hundreds of thousands of others who perpetuate the cycle of domestic violence in America, is now a pariah. He, and others like him, will be publicly scorned. And those who would protect them are now being excoriated. Good.
Why did it take so long to reach this point?
The sad fact is that we have devolved into a TMZ Society. Unless we see violence against women first-hand, and understand the sordid details behind it, we seem incapable of demanding change. This week, we had that front-row seat—and we were disgusted. Now, Goodell and the Ravens are on the run. Rice will never play another down in the NFL. And, even the omnipotent NFL has come to understand that meaningful reform is not just important—it is imperative.
Who would have imagined that creating this watershed moment could ultimately be the most important accomplishment of Ray Rice’s miserable life?
And therein lies the hope in this whole ugly episode. Few institutions in America permeate the public consciousness as the NFL does—even, as in this case, when it sets a poor example. As naïve as it probably sounds, those who can make a difference—police officers, social workers, prosecutors, and most importantly judges and lawmakers—were likely all paying attention this week. And they will feel emboldened to act much more decisively than did Goodell, Bisciotti, Newsome and Harbaugh.
So, if you care about the women in your family, then express your outrage—it helps enormously. And you can reluctantly thank the NFL for being a powerful force behind positive change. We’ll understand if you choose to wait until Goodell is (inevitably) ousted by NFL owners.
Here’s what I believe we should tell our daughters: there are two kinds of men in the world—those who hit women and those who do not. If you know a man who has ever struck a woman—even once—run. He will never change.
It’s a shame that message didn’t find its way to Kassandra Perkins and Cherica Adams. They, like Janay Palmer, deserved better.