The Ray Rice incident can be the beginning of a national conversation that will effect positive change, but it will never take place while we are focused on creating sensational headlines. Maybe Kim Kardashian has it right. If you can’t beat the media circus, embrace it and laugh your way to the bank! At least you won’t lose your job if your job is making headlines. But when you think about it, aren’t just as many girls looking to her as an example as little boys are to Ray Rice?
And then there’s Rihanna. She gets beat up by Chris Brown, then breaks up with him. Later she goes back to him. He isn’t suspended from all concert and TV venues. We shrug at her questionable decision, but we believe she is capable of determining how to live her life.
Solange attacks Jay Z in an elevator and the gossipfest lasts a few annoying weeks, but no one loses a job or gets condemned for domestic violence. We honor the premise that it’s a family matter and they’ll figure it out. We all know that family fights are often messy, ugly affairs.
Why is it different with high profile sports figures? Often when an athlete misbehaves it becomes a reason to threaten his job and ridicule him publicly. Who decided that the NFL and NBA should be the moral police? Is that even a reasonable idea especially when Roger Goodell’s integrity has been questioned in the Rice incident?
For the moment, the answers to those questions don’t matter. The media has made an example of Ray Rice, the NFL, and tomorrow, probably Jerry Jones. As long as they are condemned loud enough and often enough, many people will begin to believe what the media are saying is true.
But what are they really saying? We’ve heard that Ray Rice should lose his job forever. It’s easy to agree with that suggestion while watching him brutally cold-cock his fiancée.
But why should he lose his job? We don’t suggest that every lawyer, doctor, investment broker, teacher, or entertainer who punches a family member be fired from their jobs. We don’t ask for the resignation of their supervisors or company CEOs. Most often, we just look the other way. Maybe we have a conversation with our daughter about how men should treat her when Aunt Phyllis shows up for Sunday dinner with yet another black eye, but we don’t call the police or Uncle Vernon’s boss.
Several years ago a white female teacher in Buffalo missed numerous days of work due to evidence of domestic abuse. She told her principal that she had been rear ended by another car and her face hit the steering wheel. Her face oozed black and blue from the trauma of a closed fist punch from her baby’s dad while she sat idly on her bed watching TV. Was it her fault she didn’t answer him quickly enough? Where were her superiors, ESPN, TMZ and the rest of the media to fight her cause?
It seems that the condemnation of Ray Rice in an effort to create sensational headlines, fill the airwaves, and show a spike in ratings is the real goal. We mention domestic violence and women’s rights as if those are our concerns, and yet our focus remains on condemning a particular man rather than on strategies to change the environment that leads to such violence.
It is easier to turn away from someone whose behavior we find appalling than it is to explore the path that led them to that behavior. We must find the courage and compassion to support those who err in order to allow them to heal the wounds and shift the beliefs that contribute to their use of violence as a means to solve a problem or settle a score. Until we do this, we cannot begin to craft a solution to a problem that is pervasive in our culture not just in professional sports.
No positive change will result from continued condemnation of Ray Rice or the NFL. Ray Rice made a mistake. He knows it. Now he and his family feel ostracized, isolated, and alone. Perhaps that is what we intend because we believe they deserve it, but surely we don’t believe that isolating and vilifying creates an environment for healing. The more pressure we put on the NFL to police its employees, the more players we may find unemployed.
If the NFL, advocates against domestic abuse and the media are serious about making a change, here are some ideas to ponder: Have fund raisers to start awareness programs to help families help their relatives get away from abusers. Implement programs to help teachers identify and report signs of domestic abuse in the households of their students. Create exit strategies and provide additional funding for abused spouses who are too afraid nor have the means to leave and relocate. Develop shelters for immediate short term care for the abused who need to relocate. Finally, mandate anger management and develop stiffer punishments for the abusers.
Ray Rice has brought us a valuable teaching moment. This incident can be the beginning of a national conversation that will effect positive change, but it will never take place while we are focused on creating sensational headlines.
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