The NFL Maintains a Culture of Victim-Blaming and Domestic Violence Tolerance
In February, Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice was shown dragging his unconscious fiancée (now wife) Janay Palmer from an elevator in an Atlantic City hotel. The NFL suspended him without pay for two games, causing outrage; it was yet another example of the NFL’s failure to adequately respond to misogyny and abuse. More severe penalties had been raised against players who smoked weed. The Ravens also tweeted an apology, but not the one you’d imagine:
— Emily Frazier Brown (@emilybrowns) September 8, 2014
In June, Ray and Janay Rice met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and four other men, including Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. King reported that Janay said the incident in the legator was a “one-time event.” A meeting like that is indicative of the NFL’s ignorance. "Even having the two of them in the room and thinking that she can speak freely in that kind of a situation is crazy," Rene Renick, vice president of programs and emerging issues with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told Deadspin. “There is no way she can speak freely. And if there was any chance that she was afraid or coerced, she couldn't have said that. She would have been probably in a whole lot of danger." As a result of the meeting, Rice avoided trial by agreeing to a counseling program for first-time offenders.
Today, TMZ released another video of the assault, showing Rice punching Janay in the hotel elevator.The video circulated, and the new information pushed the Ravens to terminate Rice’s contract this morning. It’s a strange sequence of events, one that says “abuse doesn’t matter unless we see the punches thrown,” or, “the NFL does not care about abuse unless it really won’t go away.” Given the League’s lengthy history of tolerance and that incidents of violence continue, it’s clear that the sport’s head-in-the-sand approach is ineffective.
None of this is unique to the NFL. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 31 percent of women in the US have been physically abused by an inmate partner at some point in their lives. Because the study relies on self-disclosure, researchers concluded that this number was likely lower than the reality. Incidents loom large while support for victims is limited. Earlier this summer, Huffington Post editor Melissa Jeltsen profiled an Arkansas woman who was killed by her boyfriend after a year of abuse. The story reveals victim-shaming and a general lack of attention on the part of the local police. Every day on average, three U.S. women are murdered by intimate partners.
The problem extends far beyond the reach of the NFL, but the League has an opportunity and a massive platform to send a clear message to its fans and followers: Domestic violence requires attention and care, the first time it happens.