Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Ray Rice

So Ray Rice, (former) running back for the Baltimore Ravens, punched his then-fiance in an elevator at an Atlantic City casino back in February. A picture of him dragging her unconscious body through the halls of the hotel led to his arrest, subsequent two-game suspension, and a quickie wedding the next day.

Rice apologized, his wife sat by his side; even her father showed up to the press conference, affirming that the family loved Rice and would work through the pain together. Coaches, friends, media members all came out in support of Rice, who does not have a history of criminality and seems to be a responsible person. He did not shy away from the truth, owned up to his wrongs, and professed a desire to fight domestic violence in the future.

Earlier this week, video from the elevator came to light. I haven't watched the video; it seems like something I wouldn't enjoy. Consensus says it shows a professional athlete knocking a woman unconscious and then seemingly be more upset he has to do something with her body than that he's hurt the mother of his child.

Almost immediately, the Ravens terminated Rice's contract and the NFL made his suspension indefinite. The Ravens contend the video shows exactly what Rice described to them in an earlier investigation, yet the visceral pain of seeing it on film made them change their mind about an ongoing relationship. To muddy things even more, the NFL claims the video does NOT match the story Rice told them and, by inference, is accusing him of trying to hide the truth.

Adding even more fuel to the fire, Rice's now-wife, continues to be vocal about her anger with the Ravens, the NFL, and the media. Her contention: if she's moving past the incident, everyone else should, too. She might be completely sincere, then again, victims will do almost anything to prevent further victimization; it's just impossible to know.

Listen, hitting your wife is never acceptable. Hitting anyone is wrong, as far as I'm concerned, but there's near universal agreement that physically assaulting someone weaker and more vulnerable than you is cowardly and vile. No one is going to excuse what Rice did, and, despite what I might say about media coverage, this shouldn't be swept under the rug. People don't need to pipe down.

I do suspect, though, we'd all benefit from taking a step back and a deep breath before diving in for round three.

The NFL has ridiculously bungled this debacle in every way imaginable. A lot of the media attention is rightfully focused on how the league is handling the fallout. I'm less concerned about this, mostly because everyone else is concerned (at least) enough to get something done.

I'm struggling with exactly what kind of message we're sending to people.

Yes, Rice needs to face the consequences of his actions - something he's at least said he's willing to do. Shortly after this incident, the NFL released new guidelines for domestic violence - a six game suspension for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second - which have so many loopholes they really mean nothing. I'm fine if Rice misses a whole year for this. Josh Gordon is sitting out a year for smoking pot a few times - that offense and this one aren't even measurable on the same scale.

I think it might be too serious a penalty, but if Ray Rice can never pay football again, he certainly can't complain an injustice has been done. Part of confessing and submitting to discipline is the loss of control. It comes with the territory and if Ray Rice is the kind of otherwise stand-up guy everyone seemed to think he was six months ago, then he'll be prepared to do just that - even if he disagrees with the punishment.

We have to send the right message to our children. Our sons and daughters need to know what to expect and how to act in a relationship. Too many young men think it's ok to dominate their partner and too many women agree. Part of the reason I'm happy to have this ongoing public conversation is simply because it needs to be had. If this allows even one person to question their own abusive relationship, it's worth it. Yes, it's unfair that the Rice's private pain needs to be so public, but this is just the kind of public service to combat domestic violence Rice claimed to want to dedicate his life to doing. It's a worthy uncomfortableness.

At the same time, it really feels like we're throwing Ray Rice away. His team - the only team he's ever played for, the team that stood ready to back him up - has tossed him away. The league has made him a pariah, the media is portraying him as essentially worthless. As much as I want my daughter to know what to expect from a partner (and how to treat one), I also want her to know that when she makes mistakes, even big, giant, public, unconscionable mistakes, that her family will stand beside her. We may not shelter her from the consequences, but we'll walk with her through them.

Right now, no one wants to be anywhere near Ray Rice - and that's going to be bad. It'll be bad for him, for his wife and daughter, their extended families. It's bad for his teammates and for society at large.

We've become such a throw away culture that the air of disposableness extends to people. Our celebrities are fictional - they are personas, specifically created to tell a story and make money. We don't really know the people we so desperately want to know. This makes them easier to throw away. If Ray Rice is never on TV on Sunday or on Jimmy Fallon's couch, is easy to believe he no longer exists.

When an NFL player is caught using drugs - not PEDs, but real drugs - when an NFL player has a problem with addiction, be it alcohol, cocaine, or painkillers, the league provides a ridiculously comprehensive treatment plan. They do everything they can to show the player, despite the suspension and loss of income, that they actually care about their well being (the sincerity of that care is a topic for another day - cough, cough, concussions).

Maybe the league will take similar action with Rice. Perhaps they will, once the PR storm dies down, come alongside him and his family, provide counseling, accountability, education, and a path to redemption. If so, then why not make that clear from the get go? They haven't even talked about supplying help to Rice's wife. If she wants to get out of this relationship, it'll mean heavy court costs and a vastly different lifestyle than the one she's become accustomed to. An abused wife doesn't face a fair fight against a rich and famous husband - at the very least the NFL could be on her side.

Ray Rice can't be thrown away, because Ray Rice is human. If Ray Rice can be thrown away, then I could be thrown away, or you or your son or my daughter. As easy as it is to rationalize, we can't simply ignore, eliminate, or otherwise forget the people we can't deal with. We have to live with each other, we just do.

If I'm a man, struggling with my conscience over the way I treat my wife or my kids, what about this incident would make me seek help? I think it would do exactly the opposite. When the result of confession is condemnation and retribution, you'll have no more confession. Forgiveness does not equate to forgetting, to letting someone off the hook. Consequences are consequences - and, quite frankly, it's easier to make sure they're faced when the person in question believes you have their best interest at heart.

It's real easy to try and satisfy our anger and the injustice of the moment by sacrificing the guilty party - that just doesn't help anyone. Doing something simply because it makes us feel better is a terribly selfish way to act.

I think we cling to condemnation as a way on insulating ourselves. We refuse to admit that we're capable - given different circumstances or opportunities - of doing the awful things we see on the news. Because we flee from that admission so readily and so easily, we have to prove people like "them" are somehow different than people like me.

They're not. They're us.

The only way we can truly tackle huge problems like domestic violence and uncontrolled anger, is to do so together. There are no good people and bad people; there's just people. We do awful things sometimes. We do awful things a lot of the time. We're people. It's not a reason and it's not an excuse, but it is a reality - and we have to deal with it.

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