Ray Rice, Pink Cleats, Ice Buckets, and Baseball Bats

Ray Rice by Keith Allison
Ray Rice by Keith Allison

I’m a huge fan of Ray Rice the football player and I have him on one fantasy team this year. But I don’t care what he does on the field anymore — if the NFL can find a legally viable way to change its ruling I’ll be an enthusiastic supporter as long as it isn’t a ban for life.

This isn’t a new take from me — I thought that two-game suspension was a travesty and never needed to see a video to arrive at this conclusion.

Even so, I am rooting for Ray Rice the same way I rooted for Brandon Marshall.

All the details this morning were about the video. As of writing this post, there is conflicting evidence that the NFL had access to the security video that TMZ posted today. Chris Mortensen reports that the NFL didn’t have access to it, but Adam Schefter cited ESPN’s Jane McManus who initially reported that the NFL had the video. Upon hearing the NFL’s claim it didn’t have the report, McManus gave a wise response, suggesting that the NFL should have known it was available.

But the video doesn’t really matter. I know, it’s hard to ignore when the visual evidence is so compelling.  However, Ray Rice told police he hit his fiancée Janay Palmer. That’s enough.

What did you expect to see, Rice giving a tender caress of his partner’s cheek as Palmer slipped on a damp floor in the elevator and bumped her head on the hand rail? Were you expecting to see Palmer throwing a mean left hook and Rice countering with a right cross?

Now you’re disgusted? Now you’re calling for Rice to be released by the team? Now you want the NFL to do more?

Reactions to the video that I read on Twitter that say this much bother me.  Some of them connote a level of skepticism about the severity of Rice’s actions in the first place.  Unfortunately, I understand the strong denial that exists in our culture when it comes to abuse of power .

Whether it’s against women, children, and (yes) men and perpetrated by spouses, parents, bosses, law enforcement, and large corporate and government institutions with power to lose,  we don’t want to believe it happens as often as it does. Otherwise, we’d have fought battles that might disrupt the predictable, comfortable course of our lives. As admirable a cause as ALS is, it’s easier to pour buckets of cold water on our heads while streets are on fire than break through our denial that abuses of power happen all too routinely.

We’d rather believe that the victim had it coming. My mother didn’t have it coming when a 6’1″, 230 lb. man who was her husband — a former fullback at Ohio State whose claim to fame was rooming with Paul Warfield — decided on  the afternoon of St. Patrick’s day in 1981 that the best way to respond in an argument with his wife was to grab the 5’2″, 120 lb. woman by her throat and slam her against a wall.

If it weren’t for the fact that even as an 11 year-old old my voice had a man’s bass, I might not have gotten his attention soon enough to prevent him from following up on that first move with a right cross to my mother’s head.

Before that moment, I liked this man a lot. He wasn’t my father, but he was a father figure.

He played the trumpet and I played the saxophone. We often spent afternoon’s playing music together if we weren’t throwing the football around. He was a fantastic cook and even had training as a pastry chef. He taught me how to make beignets and we spent a lot of Saturday mornings cooking them as a family.

He told great jokes — some I probably shouldn’t have known at that age, but thanks to him I was a hit on the middle school lunchroom circuit. He couldn’t have been all bad, my dog loved him.

But there I was on March 17, 1981 in Atlanta, Georgia holding an aluminum Louisville Slugger that I found on a playground in Cleveland, Ohio four years earlier as a seven year-old. Even though baseball was a distant fifth among my sporting loves to football, wrestling, basketball, and soccer, I insisted on taking it home.

Although I rarely used it, it came in handy on that day — the day I had to tell that man holding my mother against the wall (and a second away from knocking her cold), that if he didn’t put her down and leave forever I was going to knock his head off his shoulders and watch it fly through the window over the backyard fence.

In hindsight, I’m sure he could have taken me if he thought he was in a life or death situation. However, I think he saw the look on my face and realized that he would have to fight someone better armed than him who was ready to die. He had enough sense to take my mom off the wall and leave the house without ever saying a word.

The only time he returned to the apartment was a year later to pick up some mail. My dog reacted like one of those pets in those veteran returning home videos you can find on YouTube. Understandably, he was a man we liked who behaved badly and needed help. He was going to have to do it somewhere else, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t have figured it out.

I hope he did.

While the influence of that incident came in handy when ex-husbands or ex-boyfriends of women I dated or befriended tried to behave badly  (bullies back down when they’re punched in the mouth or they sense they’re not going to leave an encounter they initiate without suffering a lot of pain and discomfort) witnessing this kind of abuse as a kid (and having to get involved in it) also required some untying of the knots it left on my psyche.

I have never been physically abusive, but it made normal relationship conflicts difficult for me to address. I avoided conflict. I rarely spoke my mind. This isn’t good for having an honest-to-God intimate relationship with a woman. You can’t be a true partner if you’re trying to be the hero or helper rather than an emotional equal.

Ray Rice needs help. If he does the work that Brandon Marshall did to work through his past that shaped him so he could have a better future, then one day Rice can be commended for his efforts. Reformation doesn’t erase bad deeds, but it allows us to move forward, earn trust, and even care about people who behaved badly.

As a society, a lot more could be accomplished if Ray Rice is willing to do the work and the NFL supports that process without alienating him. Adam Schefter did a decent job holding back his emotions when he expressed his outrage over the NFL’s ruling and compared what the league did to punish Rice to what ESPN might do. I may be mistaken, but I sensed Schefter wanted to see Rice gone from the NFL.

If Rice tried to do that to someone I cared about, I know in my heart that Rice would have to kill me to end my interaction with him. However, I know in my head that it would be best to give Rice an avenue to untie his knots and become an ambassador for domestic violence who can help other men.

I don’t really care what Ray Rice does on the field this year (if he plays), but I’m rooting hard for him off it. And I’m rooting for the NFL to assist in the process to fix the problem rather than simply engage in good PR and lip service to promote awareness.

There’s only so much that pink cleats, ice buckets, money, and giant American flags can do.

9 responses to “Ray Rice, Pink Cleats, Ice Buckets, and Baseball Bats”

  1. “Now you’re disgusted? Now you’re calling for Rice to be released by the team? Now you want the NFL to do more?”

    Everyone I know thought the NFL should have done more THEN. The release of the video just confirms that the league stuck its head in the sand, ignored/downplayed the evidence, then lied to reporters about viewing it.

    • Couldn’t agree more, Nath. This guy totally missed the mark. People were appalled before and called for the severest penalties. Seeing the full video just cements how badly the NFL dropped the ball. I’m never rooting for Rice, in any aspect. He’s subhuman trash.

  2. I really appreciate this post. I can’t help but think that all of the information was known about the situation from the beginning (at the team and NFL level). To see the team cut him now, and to see the league hand out an indefinite ban on the day the new video was released, seems like a PR move to me as well; one that has the marketability and profitability of the NFL in mind, much more so than the health and well-being of Ray Rice and his wife, who is suffering a second injustice with the way the whole situation was handled from the outset. I do hope that they are not alienated by the NFL. He clearly needs help, and he should have support in turning away from his grievous actions just as you suggest.

  3. While I agree with most of your points regarding the Rice-saga, I do have 2 questions.

    One, you are right in that Rice needs help, but falling back to rooting for him is exactly the type of discussion-shifting system of values that speaks from a male perspective. Notice, for one, how the word “root” blurs the line of football fandom and wishing another person to do well, thereby creating a continuation of your rooting as fan into your rooting for a person. This effectively minimizes the break Rice’ action should have created in our fandom. Why are you not wishing Rice to not feel the urge to hit women again? Why phrase it as rooting instead?

    It reminds me of exactly the thing that Rice himself said at his famous press conference: The “it’s not if you fall down, it’s if you get up talk” – talking about himself in male, football-centric coaching-phrases, as if the incident “happened” to him, not to Janay Rice. Taking up the football-term of rooting, while talking about another man, who needs to get through a hard time, is exactly the type of victim-switch that you would in general (I think) object to.

    Second, you also frame your personal account in terms of a male violence perspective: You, being there and standing up against domestic violence, is not the point of domestic violence. The question is not, if there will be enough male violence opposed to the domestic violence, so that it can be stopped, intimidated, scared into oblivion. We should not think about those situations and questions in terms of our own male strength (“could have taken me”, “life or death Situation”, “better armed”, “ready to die” …) That is also belittling and making invisible the actual, systemic female suffering and fight.

    I was wondering if you have thoughts on those points.

    • First, thank you for commenting in English, Marko.

      I presumed anyone reading the piece would see that the context in which I’m rooting for Ray Rice is for him to become a more aware human being and end the cycle of abuse that has gripped his life.

      This seemed obvious to me and a fair number of readers who have given me feedback about the piece, but perhaps there’s some amount of misunderstanding on your part or vagueness on mine. The fact that anyone thinks I didn’t or had to clearly state that I hope Rice learns to modify his behavior so he’s no longer abusive saddens me.

      As for your analysis about “what people should” think, that’s your opinion and your judgment on the matter. I can abhor what Rice did and I can have feelings of anger, sadness, and disgust, but also recognize at the same time that I have a hopeful desire to see Rice learn to break the abuse cycle and become a more aware human being who knows how to express his anger appropriately.

      It appears that in your analysis you are not willing to dwell in any ambiguity.

      As for my personal story, I shared a story of an 11 year-old boy not a 44-year-old man. I left enough indication that the repercussions of that childhood incident influenced me to address the abuse I witnessed. However, I didn’t not go fully into it. It was a more nuanced indication that I believed you missed — and I believe you missed it because you’re presuming I think the way to solve these problems is to use force to defeat force.

      While I was sharing what I feel emotionally at times when it comes to learning about abusive situations, I was also contrasting it with the knowledge that there are better ways to handle it and one of those ways is Rice seeking help and becoming a more emotionally in touch human being.

      There’s a lot of nuance about anger, forgiveness, and working through these issues that I think you missed either due to me not spelling them out as clearly or you simply missing some of it.

      Your take that my telling of the experience belittled or “made women invisible” in the process is a good example. I shared what I did as an 11 year-old. Then I explained how that impacted me in relationships as a young man where I tried to be a helper rather than a true partner. In fact I think it’s pretty clear in the piece that at that time I still had things to learn about how that abuse impacted me personally and how I had to seek help to learn to become a better partner and communicator.

      The point of my piece isn’t to tell the story from a woman’s point of view and hit all the “right” marks on women and the abuse cycle. It’s a personal telling about how abuse affected me. While I didn’t turn into an abusive individual because of (sharing some of) what I went through ( very much the opposite) I still had to get therapy and learn things to develop into a more emotionally mature human being.

      I admire your desire to stamp down chauvinistic behavior wherever it might be that can continue the cycle of abuse, please think about the fact that I’m describing this from the perspective of a man who witness abuse a boy and how that impacted my life in a negative way until I sought help.

      I’m “rooting” for Rice the way I would “root” for anyone to address issues that hurt them and others. I may not like the person for their deeds but I like to hope they’ll learn and become a better person in these respects.

      Let me know if you have any other questions or comments, thanks.

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