Friday, June 9, 2017

Reflections of Society: Looking Back on the Case of Ray Rice

So I guess I'm about to put myself over the flames, even though this is an article about a hot-topic incident that took place more than three years ago now. I am choosing to revisit the Ray Rice case, for several reasons, but the primary one being, that I feel this incident is incredibly important in American history. Not because of what happened between a man and his fiance when they had both had way too much to drink on a dark winter night. But rather, because of how it reflected on society itself, a society whose reactions to the incident were incredibly revealing.

Let me just start by openly stating that I am not unbiased in addressing this person, or this issue. I am a long-time Baltimore Ravens NFL football fan, for one. As such, while he was never one of my TOP favorite players, I have always liked Ray Rice as a player. In fact, I was a big Willis McGahee fan while he was with the team from 2007-2010, and during his final two seasons (2009 and 2010), I often opined the fact that McGahee, a powerful and talented running back in his own right (including making his first Pro Bowl as a Raven in 2007), should have gotten more carries during Ray's time as the official starter, with the two backs needing to receive closer to equal carries. But regardless of that, I was, and remain to this day, a Ray Rice fan. He is one of the greatest Baltimore Ravens in the franchise's history, the second leading team rusher behind Jamal Lewis, a three time Pro Bowler, from 2009-2012 the NFL's overall leader in total yards from scrimmage, and one of the linchpins of an unforgettable Super Bowl XLVII Championship run. Just so it's "public record", I am a Ray Rice fan. But that's not why I'm here today, so let's move on to the point of this article.

From Beloved Superhero, to Vilified Monster? 

On February 14th, 2014, Raymell Maurice Rice, just recently turned 27 years old, was a public hero, not just to the Baltimore and greater Maryland community, but in the eyes of the general American public as well. He was a Super Bowl hero and champion, one of the most successful and talented players in the NFL at the time, and perhaps more importantly, a man with a sterling record when it came to fan interaction and community service. The previous season, 2013, he had just come off of his worst personal performance, marred by injuries and an overall bad team rushing scheme, producing less than 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career since becoming the Ravens' starter in 2009. He was fully intent on rehabbing and getting back to 100% health, and with coach Gary Kubiak, a man often referred to as "The Running Back Whisperer", just recently signed on as the Ravens new and improved Offensive Coordinator, all signs pointed towards Rice having a major comeback campaign in 2014.

Then on February 15th, 2014, all of that unraveled. Having attended a Valentine's getaway of sorts with his then-fiance (now wife), Janay Palmer, and friends of theirs, in Atlantic City, his life was about to change forever. After mutually having what likely amounted to "far too much to drink", Ray and Janay, in the elevator of the Revel Casino & Hotel, a nightmare scenario unfolded for them both. While the details of the argument that initiated the situation were never fully made public, which is their right because it was a private matter from the start, the known facts are that the couple suddenly found themselves engaged in a heated argument. Sadly, what came next would alter the course of their lives, seemingly irrevocably.

Caught in a media storm.

It has always been my understanding that, as ridiculous or petty as it might sound to many, the facts of the case are that Janay both initiated, and escalated, the argument. It doesn't excuse what came after, but it is still important to note, because it puts everything in a much clearer perspective. By most accounts, though these details largely went ignored by the fans, media, and general public in the months to come, Janay became angry and verbally abusive, upset over what she felt was Ray "spending too much time on football, and not enough on family", and at some point, she escalated this physically, and struck Ray more than once. In his equally drunken state, and more than likely enraged beyond rationality by the situation (a toxic combination if ever there was one), Ray finally snapped and did "what no man is ever supposed to do", and struck back. Ray Rice "laid hands" on his wife in a violent manner. Something that is inexcusable, and in our society, grounds for becoming a social pariah, which he eventually did.

The blow, regardless of the fact that it likely came in a drunken "flash" of anger, and was completely unplanned or unintentional, knocked Janay out, as she fell limply against the elevator wall, and then to the floor. His immediate reaction was one of complete and utter shock, horror and confusion over what had just happened. His second reaction was to weakly attempt to pick her up and carry her out of the elevator. In his toxic state of drunken stupor and complete shock, he was, however, unable to fully function, and wound up only being able to drag her instead. And all of this, naturally, was caught on casino security footage, which would eventually go on to make the incident infamous, as it was leaked to the internet for all the world to see.

A corporate attempt at damage control.

I would just like to take the time to state that the description I am giving you of the incident, does not come from my second-hand knowledge via viewing the aforementioned grainy video footage. I have, in point of fact, consistently refused to ever watch that video, then or now, because quite frankly I don't want nor need to see it. Quite frankly, that video never should have been made public in the first place, and only became so after someone at the casino obviously sold the footage to smut-peddlers TMZ for what was likely a small fortune. TMZ certainly got their money's worth though, as they played that footage on a seemingly endless loop, as would other news and sports media outlets, for weeks and even months to come.

Ray Rice's first reaction after checking on his fiance, was to reportedly text his mother, telling her that he "made a mistake", and was probably going to go to jail. He was both scared, and rightfully horrified, that he had just knocked out his girlfriend, and the mother of his daughter Rayven. It is important to note, here and now, that Ray Rice was not a known abuser, nor a criminal of any kind, before or after this incident. Unlike so many young black American athletes, who come from poor and struggling backgrounds, to find themselves suddenly coming into fame and fortune in pro sports, Ray did not have a history of bad behavior or misconduct, in spite of the fact that he did have a relatively hard childhood. His father was killed in a drive-by shooting when he was a baby, and one of his cousins was killed by a drunk driver when he was ten years old. He was raised by a single mother, and had to work very hard to get where he was in life. But the fact is, he was always known as one of the "Good Guys". He was known as a hard worker, a humble person in spite of his wealth and success, and he always gave back in spades, both to Ravens fans, and in doing charity work for the community. He was not into drugs, not a heavy drinker, never into gang activity, or childish behavior in his high school or college football days. And as an NFL superstar, he was, by every possible account, a model player, and a role model to children. That is, of course, until Friday 15th, 2014.

Public Enemy No. 1? 

It's also important to note that the initial outcome of the incident, was that both Ray, and Janay, were arrested, on the charge of "simple assault", because the security footage showed that they were fighting and struck each other. To say that they were both dumbfounded and humiliated by the situation, and their own actions, is an understatement. Neither of them pressed charges against the other, and they just wanted to put the entire ugly event behind them, try to pick up the pieces, move on, and hopefully grow as people. Unfortunately, that was not going to even remotely be the case.

The NFL's immediate reaction, due to their own "player conduct" policies of the time, was to suspend Ray for the first two games of the 2014 season, without pay. To the greater public at large, this punishment was seen as far too light, though the NFL stuck by it for months. The Baltimore Ravens, for their part, initially stood by "their guy" in those early months, saying he had made a mistake but learned from it, and that he would be back. The Ravens publicly stood behind him, even arranging a conference (three months after the fact), where both Ray and his wife awkwardly "apologized" to a public and a fan-base that, in all blunt honesty, they owed zero apology to, for anything.

There wasn't, and isn't, a day that has gone by since the incident that changed their lives, in which the unfortunate events that took place between Ray Rice and Janay Palmer, were ever anything but their own private business. What happened was ugly, it was shocking, and it was regrettable for all parties involved (namely the couple, and their family), but it was their private affair, not dirty laundry to be consumed and endlessly speculated upon by the media and the public. That is another important element in this to point out, because it feeds directly into why I decided to write this article in the first place.

Rice and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, summer training camp 2014.

Now while the Ravens claimed to stand behind their man no matter what, because, as General Manager Ozzie Newsome later publicly stated "Ray told us all the details, and never lied about any part of it", this would not remain the case for long. They entered training camp, as they did every year, with Rice learning Kubiak's new offense, one which Ray very likely would have thrived under. Outside of the fact that the media continued to talk up the matter of his short suspension from time to time, everything seemed like business as usual for Ray Rice and the Ravens. He had his day in court, agreed to seek counseling with his wife, the charges by the state were dropped, he agreed to speak publicly against domestic abuse, he and Janay decided to get married earlier than planned as a public sign of solidarity, and that was that. Right? Not quite.

TMZ got their hands on the video footage, released it, other media outlets of course immediately picked it up, and suddenly a new firestorm brewed over one of the "hottest stories of the year". Suddenly, now that everyone had public access to video of the incident, and could actually see a grainy handful of seconds of what actually went down, everything changed. What was once deemed a regrettable mistake that Ray would learn and grow from, suddenly became the horrific event of 2014. What was once viewed by Ravens and other NFL fans as one bad moment in the life of an otherwise good person, suddenly became evidence of a "monster of toxic masculinity", an obvious thug, whose very character and history were called into question.

And the true hypocrisy about this entire scenario, is that EVERYONE, the Ravens, the NFL, the fans, and the public at large, already KNEW the details of what had happened. The Baltimore Ravens especially, from Ray's own mouth, knew every single sordid detail of what occurred. They KNEW the severity of the situation, yet chose to stand by Ray, "because they knew the quality of his character, and what kind of person he really was". Except, that is, for when the shitstorm came full circle, because of a few seconds of grainy video, that suddenly "put the situation in a new light".

What a Difference a Year Makes.

In light of this "new evidence", the NFL suddenly rushed to reverse their original judgement, and instead suspended Ray indefinitely. The very same day, the Baltimore Ravens, in turn, terminated Ray's contract, suddenly abandoning "their guy", who they had previously publicly stood up for and "believed in" so much. Even a good number of Ravens players went silent on the subject of Ray, save for a few on the team who were closest to him, who continued to show him public love and support, such as wide receiver Torrey Smith. Ravens fans, in large part, also suddenly turned on him, claiming he was "not the player they knew", and the Ravens offered fans to exchange their Rice jerseys for new jerseys of different players, all in a very public way of trying to diffuse heat.

But the truth of the matter is, again, that the NFL, the Ravens, the fans, and the media, already knew the details of the incident. Seeing a few grainy seconds of video footage, simply served to somehow make it more "real", more poignant for people. The National Football League, for their part, reacted as they did as a means of PR management, as they had already caught flack for how "short" his initial punishment was. They were now "correcting that" because this video simply made their judgement look worse. And the Baltimore Ravens? I will say now what I said at the time, and have maintained since: the Baltimore Ravens firing Ray after publicly insisting for months that they knew he was a good person, and that they stood by him, was an act of sheer desperation, and pure hypocrisy. It was "Damage Control", plain and simple. The video made the Ravens look bad, and the only way to make that "go away" so they could focus on football, was to very publicly cut ties with the man, indicating, however subtly, that they did NOT in fact stand by him, and perhaps even that they had been "mistaken" about his quality of character.

Ozzie Newsome, for his part, did publicly state that Ray never lied to him about a single detail shown in the video, and that he still believed Ray to be a good man. But in general, the Ravens acted out of self-interest, and at the end of the day, they turned their backs on a man who had been a loyal employee and team player to them, for years. To put that in greater perspective, in an era before social media really took off, before Twitter, before Instagram and Facebook and Tumblr, back in 2000, the Ravens stood by the face of their franchise, All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis, after he was indicted for being an "Accessory to Murder". Let that sink in for a moment. Contrary to popular (and ignorant) misconception, the man was NOT ever accused of committing murder himself. He was, rather, accused of being an "accessory", because he was a witness, in the parking lot with "friends" who actually committed the stabbing during a fight outside of a club, and he then did what I would wager the vast majority of drunk (or sober) friends would do in that type of nightmare situation: he said "let's get the hell out of here", and he and his "friends" ran. A horrible situation, in which two men died, though Ray Lewis had nothing to do with their deaths personally. He was merely present when it happened, and "aided and abetted" the perpetrators, alleged friends of his who later tried to sell him out for lighter sentences, by helping them to flee the crime-scene. It was a drunken, idiotic moment of youthful fear and stupidity, that could have cost Ray both his career and many years of his life in prison. And yet, through ALL of that, through the entirety of the trail, and the media firestorm that surrounded it, the Ravens stood by THAT Ray, steadfastly insisting they knew the true quality of his character. He was later acquitted, the Ravens acted vindicated in their choice, and they went on to win Super Bowl XXXV.

The point there being, that Ray Lewis went on to become the Super Bowl XXXV MVP, a 13-time Pro Bowler, the 2000 and 2003 Defensive Player of the Year, ultimately a 2-time Super Bowl champion, and he is now regarded by many as quite possibly the greatest linebacker, and perhaps even the single greatest defensive player in NFL history. Mr. Lewis is a sure-fire, "First Ballot" NFL Hall of Fame inductee, meaning that he will be chosen for induction the very first year he is eligible, no questions asked, because of his incredible career. None of that marked by what happened outside of a club, being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, back in 2000. Hell, Ray Lewis is so respected and beloved by Ravens fans and the Ravens organization, that they erected a statue of him, placed next to Baltimore football legend Johnny Unitas, outside of their stadium. He is looked at by the NFL, most NFL fans, and for that matter most NFL players, as a legend, and a source of sage wisdom and advice that young players to this day often look to. The point being, that in today's climate, less than two decades later, if that incident had occurred even in 2014, the Baltimore Ravens likely would have dropped "living legend" Ray Lewis immediately, like yesterday's garbage, to save public face, without waiting to see whether or not he was in fact "guilty".

Inhuman Monster, Or Merely Human?

Ray Rice (shown above with his mother Janet), by comparison, wasn't even remotely involved in anything as horrific as a murder, even as a bystander. Yes, he hit his fiance, which is unconscionable, and something that never should have happened. But the NFL has a long history, as previously stated, of giving players who "mess up" Second Chances. Yet Ray Rice, who appealed his suspension (and won) later in 2014, has never played another snap of NFL football (or any pro football) since. And the real meat and potatoes of this article, is to look at the WHY, the reasons behind not only his fall from grace, but the fact that in a world where people have done far worse and still go on to further success and adulation, Rice remains untouched, like a social leper no one wants to get near.

By comparison, Ben Roethlisberger, star quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, has been accused not once, but twice, of raping women. He was never officially charged in either instance, and both times quietly swept it under the rug, with out-of-court settlements. Meaning he paid the women to shut up and make it go away. Is Ben guilty on either count, or is he the victim of celebrity targeting? That isn't for me to say, though I will state that the old axiom remains, "Once is a coincidence, twice is a trend." By comparison, Donte Stallworth, a former NFL wide receiver, in a moment of sheer idiocy, got behind the wheel drunk, and as a result, he was charged with manslaughter, for hitting a man with his car while driving under the influence. Stallworth served time in prison for that charge, "paid his debt to society", and got second and even third chances with NFL teams afterwards, even playing for the Baltimore Ravens in 2010. Michael Vick, former NFL star quarterback, was charged in 2007 with not only organizing and running illegal dog fights, but with personally killing dogs involved with the fights with his own bare hands. Vick also did time in prison for his activities, and afterwards, was welcomed back to the NFL with open arms, even going on to have some success with the Philadelphia Eagles.

And perhaps the most direct comparison, fellow NFL superstar running back Adrian Peterson, another player with a "Good Guy" image, was also indicted in 2014, charged with child abuse, for taking a "switch" to his son, bad enough to leave cuts, welts and bruises, including what looked in pictures to be "slash marks" on his legs. The boy was taken to the hospital, having been hit in the "back, buttocks, genitals, legs and ankles." For this, Peterson was suspended for the entire 2014 season. But he was not cut by the Minnesota Vikings, who upon his reinstatement by the league in 2015, welcomed him back with open arms, and he went on to have a successful season for them, once again beloved by the fans and the sports media, lauding his great "comeback". Even though, by comparison, he literally beat the shit out of his son as a form of "parental discipline". Even though, by comparison, what we're talking about when we talk about the "Ray Rice Incident", boils down to, in one horrible drunken moment of his life, he threw what basically amounted to a boxing "jab" at his girlfriend, a reaction to her (allegedly) hitting him multiple times.

Just a Man.

The point of comparison, is not merely to point out that other NFL players, in the recent past, have committed worse acts than what Ray did. The point of comparison, is that players have committed worse acts, yet have been welcomed back, and even beloved, by the league, by ther fans, and ultimately the general public. Yet that has not been the case for  Ray Rice. After his reinstatement in 2015, he stayed on the free agent market, long after the 2015 season began. He did not receive any real interest, did not have even a single meeting with a prospective team, even though he was still relatively in his "prime", and many teams likely could have used him as an obvious upgrade over their currently available players. He remained a pariah, not just in the 2015 off-season, but in the 2016 off-season as well, even though in 2016 he stated that he "just wanted to play", and was willing to donate the entirety of his NFL pay to charity if a team would sign him. He was given no "Second Chance", by anyone, to resume his career, and "prove" to the public that he was a "changed man".

Nevermind the fact that he was very likely not "changed" as a person by one incident on February 15th 2014, from the person he had been on February 14th, 2014. Meaning that one incident did not, and does not, define the entire life, nor the quality of character, of Ray Rice. Looking at the facts of the case, while he would likely be the first person to tell you how horrible and wrong what happened really was, he would also likely be the first person to tell you that that one moment of his life, does not change who he was beforehand, nor does it shape who he has been since. It doesn't define him, or rule him, as a person. Even though obviously, it has taken a serious toll, and it is something that, details of the incident be damned, he is continuing to pay for, and be punished for, long after he too has paid his "debt to society".

Now mind you, when I pointed out that what he did "basically boiled down to one jab thrown", that does not in any way attempt to minimize the severity of striking a loved one. What it does attempt to do, however, is to shine a more realistic light, and put in better perspective, both the incident itself, and the people it involved. Janay Rice was the first person to stand up for her husband publicly after the incident, and that tells you something. She stood by him, stuck with him, married the father of her child, and has happily remained with him since. That SHOULD speak volumes by itself, about the quality of his character. Yet for most of the general public at large, it didn't, and hasn't. And it is because the general public has never "forgiven" Ray Rice for his transgression, that no NFL team will touch him with a proverbial "ten foot pole".

Trapped in a Nightmare Relationship?

If you truly wish to see the strongest evidence of public perception, and its power over Ray Rice, his family, and his life, look no further than one lovely news headline I was able to run across. In an article posted by the New York Post, dated May 2nd, 2016, a little over a year ago from the time I write this, the headline read: "Janay Rice Expecting Second Child with Abusive, Jobless Ex-NFLer". If that doesn't tell you all you need to know about the power of public perception, then little else will. Nearly two years after the incident occurred, and the rest of the world has moved on without Ray Rice, a "news" outlet actually has the audacity to use the announcement of a second Rice baby, to take another jab at Ray and an incident most have likely forgotten about. Granted, other similar article headlines took no such low road, simply stating that they were expecting a second child. And the article in question itself, does not take the harsh tone that the headline suggests. But the fact is that the headline exists, and still serves as a reflection of how many in society might still be likely to perceive the man and his family.

And that really gets down to the core of the issue of "Public Perception", and how it relates to the Ray Rice incident. Most of what I am saying in this article, are things I have thought, and even said, since 2014. Yet when I tried to say them in 2014, I was largely met by people I had conversations with, with at least mild disbelief or ridicule, if not being outright attacked, that I could even dare to attempt to put the man and the incident in a HUMAN light. Let alone try to give Ray himself any sort of defense. How dare I take that kind of approach? After all, he is obviously some kind of monster, who has likely always been a secret abuser and ugly person inside, right? He just managed to hide it all of that time, but that incident finally brought to light what kind of person he really was. A coward, who would hit a woman, for whom no punishment could really be harsh enough.

That is really what is wrong with perception of the man, and the situation. Society, specifically American society, was all too willing, even eager, to jump in and pile on, shitting on the man and his character almost immediately, assuming the worst, and proliferating the notion that he is the worst kind of person, who deserves to be publicly vilified and used as a poster boy for abuse and patriarchal monsters everywhere. I heard no end of horrible comments about Ray himself, that he was a monster, a thug, a coward, a "violent attacker", a "natural abuser", etc. etc. Hell, people even came out of the woodwork throwing the sadly expected racial slurs his way. And when Janay stood by him, married him, and publicly stood up for her man? She suddenly went from a poor, helpless victim, to an "idiot" who was obviously brainwashed, or too afraid to leave him, or too hung up on using him for his money, or any other number of nasty sentiments.

The Rice Family

It couldn't possibly be, that maybe she actually loved him, and even though I assure you she was NOT okay with being hit, she also realized, and publicly admitted, that she was not blameless or innocent in the situation. That she had helped instigate and escalate things, and that they had both been seriously drunk, and both in the wrong. Perhaps she stood by him because she actually knows the person, the man, that Ray Rice is, and that one awful incident, no matter how humiliating or painful, does not define who he is, any more than it defines who she is, as people. The facts are, that Ray Rice and Janay Palmer first met at teenagers, and knew each other since high school, being together through their college years, and into his NFL career. They were longtime friends, not merely lovers, and had stood by each other through everything. So why would she suddenly not stand by him now, over one ugly incident that was on both of them? Why would she deprive their daughter of her father, break up their family, and add to his very public misery by leaving him? He hit her, yes, and that's incredibly shitty. But the fact got ignored, and always seems to get ignored by our society, is that she hit him too. And neither are excusable.

I know a little something, I'm sorry to say, about this kind of thing. Not to get too deep into personal details, but my first girlfriend was a rather toxic, volatile relationship. It was also an abusive relationship, especially on her part, though I was hardly blameless, as the relationship brought out the worst in me, which I hated. But long story short, there was a specific instance, when we were arguing over something petty and pointless (naturally), and she suddenly hauled off and slapped me across the face. Without any real provocation or justification (as if there really could be any to a rational mind). And my near-instantaneous, automatic reaction, in that one dark moment, was basically to "see red", and almost as a defensive reflex to being struck, before I could even realize what was happening, I slapped her in the face back. It happened. We both sat there, staring at each other in silence for a few awkward moments, feeling horrible, and then quietly apologized to each other, and moved on. Granted, the relationship continued to be bad, and ended very badly. But for as stubborn and proud as my "Ex" could be, she realized, and was the first to say, that she shouldn't have hit me. It goes without saying that I also should not have hit her back. And if it had actually been a positive, healthy relationship, if we were still together to this day, I would feel worse about it now, even than I did about it right then. But I would also trust that she would also feel bad about hitting me, and we would mutually regard the incident as one dark, stupid moment between us, a private moment that was no one else's business but ours, that did not define us as a couple, or as people.

Don't mistake my intent in saying these things. Domestic abuse is a VERY real and VERY serious problem, worldwide. And the fact is, that women very often are the victims in these situations, and I have always hated that. I always told myself, prior to my first "Ex", that I would NEVER hit the girl I loved, not ever, not for anything. And so it goes without saying that that became a belief and a self-perception shattered (among others), that left me wondering what kind of person I really was. How she, and the relationship itself, caused me to act in ways I never thought myself capable of acting, to the point that when it was all over, there were times when I questioned whether or not, rather melodramatically, if I myself was some kind of "monster", because I did not live up to my own lofty ideals and standards of how I, or a man in general, should act in a relationship. And THAT was in a BAD relationship. I've always told myself, that if it had been a good and healthy relationship with the "Right Girl", that none of the bad things would have happened, on either of our parts, and I will impress today that I do still very much want to believe that. And perhaps I'm right, who knows?

That doesn't mean that Ray and Janay have a BAD relationship, nor does it mean that he is an "abuser", or some ticking time bomb, just waiting for another excuse to hit her again. Ray and Janay stood by each other, I'd like to think, because they really do love each other. That one awful moment in their lives, no matter how much of an impact it wound up having on them, doesn't define them. But the way social perception shaped not only the public views on the incident, but the conversation about the incident itself, and domestic violence as a greater issue, really pointed out serious flaws to me, in how we as a society view gender roles, expectations, and judgements.

Yes, this is real.

What you see above is a picture of a white couple, in blackface, going for Halloween dressed as Ray Rice, and his "abused" wife Janay, sporting a black eye. That's not made up, nor is it funny. But it happened, and it wasn't an isolated thing. And that just goes to further illustrate the wide array of social hypocrisies that this case truly brought to light. On the one hand, you had racists, who poked fun at the situation, publicly assuming that Ray was "naturally" just a violent thug because he was black, and came from a poor background. You had ardent feminists, who automatically assumed that Janay was a terrified, innocent victim, trapped in a nightmare relationship that she couldn't get out of. And then when Janay didn't leave him, instead marrying him, those same feminists turned just as quickly against their paragon of victimhood, calling her everything from a moron to a slut, accusing her of either being too afraid to leave Ray, or too stupid to do so. Never mind the fact that Janay is a college educated woman, from a stable family background. Nevermind the fact that her parents taught her to respect herself, and to never settle for someone who didn't deserve her, or to put up with bad treatment. So if she forgave Ray and stayed with him, she must have had damn good reasons.

The automatic assumption that Ray Rice was "the kind of guy to hit a woman" when this incident became public, made me sick. Granted, my perception was skewed, by the fact that I was a Ravens fan, and the fact that I had followed Ray his entire career, and felt like I "knew" him on some level. But it was also skewed by the fact that, as stated, I myself have some unfortunate experience with "domestic violence", not just in that relationship, but, not to put too fine a point on it, also from my own childhood. Perpetrated, mind you, by the grandmother who raised me. In fact one could likely be directly correlated to the other, as I had developed a survival-instinct response to being abused and hit, and lashed out blindly upon being hit in a relationship later in life. A scenario and experience that I hope never to have to live through again, on either count. So my perception of it was, I would like to say, more "enlightened", and certainly more measured. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. And to be fair, I wasn't entirely alone in that. There were other Ravens fans, or football fans in general, who gave him the benefit of the doubt as well. Even some Ravens fans who refused to get rid of their Rice jerseys, and actually wore them with pride, showing him support. Of course those people also got shit for doing so, which comes right back around to the greater societal focus here.

To put it bluntly, our society is full of hypocrisies, layered atop one another. For example, where were the feminists to point out that both parties were equally wrong for striking each other, and that violence is wrong no matter who commits it? Where were those same feminists when a woman made the personal CHOICE to stand by her man, no matter what, because she loved him and knew him better than anyone? Where were the so-called "Men's Rights Activists", to point out the hypocrisy of Rice's treatment, versus the treatment more serious infractions by pro sports players received? Or the fact that Janay's initial "Simple Assault" charges were dropped by the court, but Ray's were escalated to "Aggravated Assault".Where were the voices of reason, in positions of authority, to point out that while what happened was awful, that Ray's prior history as a good and conscientious man, should be taken into account? That he shouldn't be vilified and demonized, characterized and judged by one bad moment in an otherwise upstanding life.

Dave Chappelle, cracking Rice jokes.

Even comedian Dave Chappelle, someone I have long been (and still am) a fan of, who himself recently made a comeback after voluntarily being out of the public eye for years, in one of his recent Netflix stand up comedy specials, made a topical joke about Ray. In fact, his joke touched on something, the way the incident was described, that I myself had run into while debating the whole situation back in 2014 with friends and co-workers. Chappelle used the phrase "he hit her with all of his strength", to describe the incident. I often ran into this kind of idea, and phrase, that when debating the subject back in 2014 and even 2015, the idea being that this poor, helpless woman is hit by a massive, hulking 200 pound NFL player, "with all of his strength", and that he could have killed her, and she was lucky to be alive. Granted, he WAS a physically powerful running back, even though he stood at a "diminutive" 5'8" tall. But from every rational description I have heard or read, after she slapped him repeatedly, he reacted by "popping her one", and that was that. Drunkenness and physics imply the likelihood that, in all reality, her falling against the elevator wall, and then slumping to the floor after the hit, had at least as much to do with the level of alcohol in her system, as did Ray's own struggles to pick up and carry a "tiny woman" out of the elevator afterwards. That isn't to say that it was right of him to hit her, nor is it to say that even another "big strong man" couldn't go down with only one blow. But it is me implying that, judging from his reaction afterwards, it's quite likely that Ray never meant to "PUNCH" her, but instead, in his drunken anger and poor motor functions, was simply trying to "bat her away", to get her to stop hitting him.

I could be entirely incorrect in that indication, but it does prove to bring up a very valid point, one which I brought up myself at the time, to which few others ever had a really strong or compelling response. And that is a quandary that any and all men either have, or very well could find themselves dealing with, namely: what DO you do in that kind of situation? We live in a society shaped by the idea that men are physically bigger and stronger than women, that women are frail and often physically "helpless" against their male counterparts. And in the interest of full fairness, that IS scientifically accurate. I myself in previous pieces here on the SBB, have pointed out that Nature designed men to be physically bigger, stronger, and faster on average, than women. Given that, as boys we are raised always being told "You never hit a girl, for any reason." And on it's face, that isn't a completely incorrect or bad thing to teach boys.

The problem is, girls are not often taught the equally important and necessary counterpart to this, which is: "You don't ever hit boys, for any reason". It is 100% socially acceptable in American society, for a female to hit, or even outright beat, a male. In cartoons, TV shows and movies, such instances are even made light of, and are used as the source of comedic moments. Because to American society, men are big and strong, and "can take a hit", whereas women, says the same society, cannot. So a man hitting a woman, even a simple slap, can more often than not be seen as something horrible and quite serious. But that same woman hitting that same man, can just as easily be construed as funny and completely innocent. In fact it is socially acceptable for girls or women to hit boys or men, for almost any reason, even the most shallow and irrational, such as simply not liking what a guy said, or even hitting an innocent bystander who did nothing to her, simply because she is having a bad day. A woman absolutely flipping out, upon being dumped by the man, and going berserk, smashing up valuable belongings, or conversely, throwing all of the guy's stuff out of a balcony window to be smashed and ruined on the sidewalk because she is "kicking him out"...those things are often depicted as being not only okay, but acceptable behavior. Even though if the genders were flipped, a male acting in those ways, would be considered violent, unstable, abusive, and dangerous. The general public would find such depictions to be seriously unfunny, and even offensive.

 So in light of this social stigma that it is perfectly normal and acceptable for women to hit men, for whatever reason they feel like at that given moment, but it is never, for any reason, acceptable for a man to physically hurt a woman in any way, again, the question lingers, what do you do in that scenario? I myself long believed that you "never hit a woman", and in general, I still hold that belief, though for slightly different reasons. But if a woman is physically attacking me, what am I supposed to do? What, according to society, am I ALLOWED to do, to defend myself? Am I merely supposed to stand there, hands down, and take the abuse until she's finished, because I'm a man, and "I can take it"? Am I ALLOWED to even put my hands up to block her blows, or is that too aggressive. If she hurts herself because she hit my arms while I raised them trying to protect myself, in the eyes of society or the law, does that still mean I actually "assaulted" her? If I grab her arms to stop her from hitting me, is that too not construed as assault? Self-defense certainly has a place in American law, but that line gets blurry when it involves men and women, specifically men defending themselves from women. While I feel, deep down, that I don't ever want to even "accidentally" slap the person I love, even as a reflexive response, and hope it never happens again, at the same time, against any OTHER woman, especially a theoretical stranger, I have to say, if I am being physically attacked, I'm going to defend myself. There is no reason on earth why anyone should be expected, in the eyes of society OR the law, to "stand there and take it", and if it comes down to me hitting someone to get them away from me, to get them to stop hurting me, then in that kind of awful scenario, I would do it. If it was MY wife? I might probably just let her hit me without doing much to defend myself, because I love her that much, and wouldn't want to hurt her. But then again, I'd hope that a person that loved me enough to be my wife, would also love me enough to never try to hurt me in the first place.

An overused meme that sends a bad message.

So now we get down to, perhaps, the societal roots of what's really going on here. Above, you can see a panel from a classic Batman comic, grossly overused as a meme online, obviously depicting Batman slapping poor Robin. The context of the story itself, may well have seen Robin somehow possessed or otherwise seriously out of line, and Batman "needed" to slap him to "bring him to his senses". But regardless of the actual context, it is one of many instances where violence is made light of in our society, or even glorified, in a domestic sense. And I will be the first to admit that so-called "Slapstick" humor, such as the classic Three Stooges, can be quite funny. But it still shines a light on how we view violence, even between friends or family. In many cases, it can be considered funny, or even acceptable, such as male on male, female on female, or female on male. It is only when it becomes male on female, that suddenly it's not funny, nor acceptable.

Mind you, not everyone thinks that way, but we're talking more broadly at the moment, about how the general perception of society colors our daily lives. It is acceptable, even funny, that Batman slaps the Boy Wonder. It would still be acceptable, though perhaps viewed somewhat differently, if it was Batgirl striking...a girl Robin. Or Batgirl striking Dick Grayson Robin. But if Batman were striking Batgirl? That would suddenly be serious, and out of line. Distasteful, etc. The social implications of this are, at the least, interesting to ponder, and at the most, can be quite disturbing. If you're asking my personal opinion, I think that girls AND boys should be taught, with equal seriousness and solemnness, that you DON'T hit the opposite sex. In fact, you could well argue that it would be best, and easiest, to just teach ALL kids that it's rarely, if EVER, justified to hit ANYONE, regardless of gender or anything else. But the fact is, it is quite a load of societal bullshit, that girls are not only taught that it's OK to hurt boys, but often enough, they are in many ways even encouraged and applauded in doing so. Because again, men "should be able to take it", and "girls are so weak it can't possibly hurt that much anyway". Even though that is often not the case, and a little known fact about Domestic Violence, is that looking at average percentages, men are actually the victims of it on an almost equal footing, often victims at the hands of women. And it is specifically because men are supposed to be tough, and should "be able to take it", that most men don't report abuse, physical or otherwise, because in doing so, they are either outing themselves as cowards or weaklings, or else they might be scorned and ignored, because "women can't abuse men".

What Ray Rice did was unequivocally wrong, and he never should have hit his fiance, for any reason. But she shouldn't have ever hit him either. And the question remains, what does society say, in that kind of crazy, nightmare instance, that he is supposed to do, or is even allowed to do, to defend himself? Certainly the answer isn't "knock her out", and I don't think most rational people would ever try to argue that, no matter where on the "social justice" spectrum they exist. But I feel like Janay herself would tell you, that she shouldn't have ever hit Ray to begin with, that they shouldn't have gotten drunk, and should have been communicating their issues like a healthy relationship, long before it could ever erupt like that. But, concerning the Rice's now two children, daughter and son, I would like to hope that the lesson here is not merely to teach the boy not to ever hit girls, not to ever do what his father did. I would hope, and personally feel the right thing to do, not just for them but for any parents, is to teach children of BOTH genders, to never do what they BOTH did to each other. To use your words, to communicate, honestly and often, and never to resort to hurting the people you love. Ever.

That is certainly the lesson I would impart to my own children.

A good player, a better man.

I am sure there is much more I could say on this issue, as it is an issue that I feel is a very serious problem in society, a dichotomy that needs to be addressed and addressed sooner than later, among many others. But I have already said much, and I feel like it's about time to wrap this up. If I am going to leave some "parting thoughts" on Ray Rice, the incident in question, and the issues it raises, they would be this:

Ray Rice is a good man, and a decent human being. He is a good father, a valued member of his community, and yes, even a good and loyal husband. How can I say this, in light of what he did? Because it's more likely than not, the truth. It was true of him before the incident, and it remained true of him after. Many Ravens fans have since "forgiven" him, that initially turned their backs on him, and he is, in general, seen by Ravens fans as "one of the greats". And yet, the Baltimore Ravens certainly haven't rushed to bring him back "home", so he can play again, nor are they likely ever to. Because even years later, it would still "look bad", or worse, make THEM "look bad", to certain eyes of the public. It would be seen as somehow rewarding misconduct and bad behavior...even though that is literally what has been afforded countless other pro-athletes (even female ones), over the decades. The idea of the "Second Chance". And while I cannot personally think of a more deserving person OF such a chance to play again, the sad fact is, that no NFL team will likely ever sign Ray again, and he's starting to get to the age most athletes reach where, eventually, it's not going to matter.

It is, in this man's estimation, a damn shame what happened to Ray Rice. Yes, you could make the argument that he brought it on himself, with his own foolish, drunken actions. But you could just as easily make the argument (which I feel I somewhat have), that he was judged far too harshly by one incident, especially by society at large, and not afforded the opportunity to prove that this incident doesn't define who he is. That he would give anything to take that moment back, as I'm sure his wife would as well. But regardless of the tragedy of his shortened career, the man Ray is, is what matters. It is not right that he should be the "poster child" for domestic abuse, expected to speak on it and apologize for it, for the rest of his life. Any more than it was fair, all of the horrible and even outright bigoted things that people said and assumed of him, all because they saw a few seconds of grainy video footage, and felt like that gave them license to judge, as if they knew the whole story, and all the facts.

The irony of it all, is that if that exact same scenario happened to most people, they would want and expect to be judged on who they are, not that one moment in time. They would want to be given the benefit of the doubt, and given the chance to show that they are better than one action they committed. If this exact same scenario played out to someone they knew well, a friend or a family member, they might be more horrified because it's "closer to home", but at the same time far more willing to forgive, and to NOT assume the absolute worst of the person, because they know them. Surely Ray and Janay's family and friends felt and reacted that way. But an entire nation of complete strangers, on the other hand? They were ready to hang the man in the public square, and all because TMZ "leaked" a few seconds of grainy footage for all to see. As if somehow, seeing the act for themselves, made things worse than merely hearing about it. As if the situation was somehow worse, now that they could see it, nevermind that they were only being shown part (the worst part) of what occurred, not viewing the entire situation in context.

Nothing makes what Ray did "right". But knowing the actual details, which few cared to be bothered knowing, does make him human. Just as human as any of the rest of us. He is more sorry and more regretful over what occurred, than anyone else on earth possibly could be. And there is something to be said, paraphrasing a Christian parable about "let he who is without sin, cast the first stone". It is ironic, in a nation allegedly founded on the teachings of a man whose core principles were forgiveness, understanding, and compassion, that our society at large, so infrequently bothers to extend any of the above, and certainly not to strangers.

No comments:

Post a Comment