For the first time in a couple years, I'm not writing any football columns. I really do miss it because I'm still a huge football fan, especially with my beloved Seahawks winning the Super Bowl this year! While I'm not writing, I'm still taking in the news and events and commenting on other blogs. However, with the news of Ray Rice and other domestic violence issues in the NFL, I really want to post my own thoughts on the situation rather than just commenting on the opinions of others.
I'll preface this by saying I lived with domestic violence in my first marriage. Even though it was many years ago, I feel I have excellent clarity on the internal workings of domestic violence. And that view plays a huge role in the comments I'm about to make.
To those supporting Ray Rice and saying he's a good guy, I'm sure he is.... to you. My first husband was also a great guy. He was such a great guy to all his friends and co-workers that I was considered a very lucky girl indeed. He was such a great guy that when he threw me around, I knew there had to be something wrong with me, because he was a great guy with everyone else. It couldn't be him. I had to try harder. When fellow players and sports columnists talk about what a great guy and a great teammate Ray Rice is, they're perpetuating the myth that it must be her fault because hey, he's a great guy. They're also mitigating domestic violence. "It can't be that bad, Ray's a great guy. They'll work it out." Even when they view the video, some people consider it an anomaly.
Domestic violence occurrences are not anomalies. In my experience, what was captured on the video wasn't the first or only time with Ray and his wife. It may not happen every day. It may not happen every month. You may start to relax after a month or so. You may think you'll stand up for yourself next time or that you'll reason with him next time or that if you apologize enough for whatever, it won't happen again. In my experience, it doesn't matter what you say or do, the person committing domestic violence, male or female, is wired to resolve personal conflicts with violence. They may feel bad afterward, but every time they act on it, it empowers them to do it again.
Janay's comments regarding the release of the video and how devastating it was to her and Ray makes total sense. It's a hell of a lot harder to pretend everything is okay when there's video evidence of domestic violence. I certainly didn't want anyone to know that my first husband was hitting me. I'm not keen on it now. But I do understand how it hurts her. I remember not wanting to be labeled as a victim. It's easier to pretend you aren't a victim if the evidence just goes away, if you can cover the bruises, if everyone quits talking about it or if nobody knows. You're so busy trying to make everything right, salvage your fragile self esteem and make sure it never happens again... I can't imagine how devastating it is for her to see the evidence, have it discussed on national television and social media and have her husband lose his job over it. However, I really believe the only hope for an abuser is exposure and treatment. So I'm happy for the exposure, because now I believe Ray will be forced to seek help.
Finally, the comment everyone makes: "I can't believe she married him after he did that to her!" You're saying that from the perspective of someone who has a healthy self esteem and hasn't experienced regular or semi regular violence in their relationship.
I married my abuser. I knew what he was capable of doing. I hoped the marriage would make a difference. I hoped he would relax. I hoped we would have a happy life together. I hoped we could put the ugliness behind us. I wasn't thinking about me and my health. I was thinking about him and his happiness. I didn't think about myself until he began escalating and then I began to plan. Leaving isn't as easy as walking out the door. Safety becomes paramount when you're leaving an abuser because you're taking away their control and their outlet.
So, do I understand why she's still there? Yes, and I hope she's doing the right thing. I hope they're both getting help and I wish them nothing but the best.
I'm putting this out there, not because I want people to know about me, but because I want people to look at the Ray Rice situation for what it is. He's an abuser. He's also a great guy. As much as Ray has the capacity to be a great football player, teammate, friend and husband, his capacity to abuse is equal if not greater than all those roles. Don't whitewash it and mitigate it because of any of those other roles he's known for. And don't blame Janay for staying and marrying him. It's part of the cycle. She has a role to play in learning how not to be a victim, but she can't do that while he's still abusing. As much as they hate it now, the release of the elevator tape could end up being a very good thing for both of them.
It's my hope that the media eventually gets this right and we quit giving players a pass when they're abusers. It's my hope that the league takes it seriously and commits to consistent consequences for abusers that are harsher across the board than PED use or DUIs. The NFL is fully aware that women are a vibrant, engaged part of their fan base. It's time for them to walk their talk and take a stand on the fact that domestic violence has no place in the NFL.