The Ray Rice Drama: The NFL’s Moment To Support Women

800px-Ray_RiceIn a very 21st century move on Monday, the Baltimore Ravens announced via Twitter that it had terminated running back Ray Rice’s contract.

The announcement came after new video surfaced on the celebrity website TMZ that showed Rice punching Janay Palmer, his then-fiancee, in the face in an Atlantic City elevator earlier this year. The startling video shows the couple, who are now married, entering an elevator.

Once inside the elevator, Rice becomes abusive and punches Palmer. Palmer then lunges after Rice. Rice hits Palmer again and she falls to the floor. He then drags Palmer, who appears unconscious, out of the elevator and never even bothers to pull down her skirt.

In a twist in Rice’s termination, the Ravens deleted a months-old tweet that said: “Janay Palmer says she deeply regrets the role she played the night of the incident.” Really? Just when you thought that maybe the Ravens and the NFL – which also announced it was suspending Rice indefinitely – got something right, it did something very wrong. It quietly deleted the tweet without any explanation, but not before reporters caught them.

No woman should ever have to have her name connected to an apology for having the crap beat out of her by a man whether she is connected to a famous football player or married to the man next door.

While the Ravens removed that tweet, it was re-tweeted thousands of times before they thought to remove it. If Palmer herself really did issue this “apology,” she needs to realize she owes no one an apology and the Ravens should look for someone else to manage their social media accounts.

It’s good that the Ravens and the NFL punished Rice for his actions. However, they must go further where domestic abuse is concerned. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in August: “We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place.”

“I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will,” he added.

In a press conference in July, Rice, who leaves the NFL with about $25 million thanks to a front-loaded contract, said his actions were “inexcusable.” No joke. He added that he and his wife are in counseling. I’m hoping it was the counselor that called the Ravens and told them to take down the third-party apology.

According to the National Coalition for Domestic Violence, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. When a woman apologizes for being a victim, it only further victimizes her. Perhaps, someone in the NFL realized that.

The NFL is a religion in this country. Millions of men are obsessed with football. In that way, the NFL is in a very unique position to change the way domestic violence is viewed in the United States. Football players are worshiped as gods and in that regard, they get a lot of free publicity. Most football players, it would be safe to say, don’t haul off and punch women. But many might, and many times the abuse is likely not reported. After all, most cases of domestic abuse are never reported to police.

Throughout the sports world, there is a culture of blaming women for tempting men to abuse them. In July, ESPN host Stephen A. Smith, talking about the Rice situation, said no man should never put his hands on a woman but that women should also “do [their] part in making sure that [violence] doesn’t happen.”

Will the NFL please educate these men? Now, there’s a thought.

If the league wants to shed its Neanderthal image, it could launch a public service campaign aimed at stopping domestic abuse. It could also assist its millionaire-making players with mammoth egos with dealing with their anger and rage. Many of these men may honestly not know how to deal with their emotions. After all, they play rough on the field with heated emotions and fiercely angry when they lose. It’s very likely hard to turn all of that fire off when they go home.

The NFL is in a unique position at this moment to become a champion of women. But will it?

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt” and “1000 Best Bartender’s Recipes.” She writes frequently for Reuters, TakePart, and numerous other publications. Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/In the public domain

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