Ray Rice Coverage Blames Victims of Domestic Violence

Maggie Menditto, Columnist

Accompanied by his wife Janay Palmer at a May 23 press conference, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice spoke to reporters about a violent physical altercation that had transpired between the two in an Atlantic City casino. Apologizing for what he called the couple’s “situation,” Rice took the opportunity to thank his fans, his coaches and his family for sticking by him throughout the ordeal. He was “still the same Ray,” he said, still the same guy that “you know or used to know or [have] grown to love.” In a poorly chosen metaphor, he said, “Failure is not getting knocked down; it’s not getting up.”

The incident in question occurred on Feb. 15 of this year, when the 206-pound NFL player struck a blow to his then-fiancée in a casino elevator, sending her into the opposite wall and knocking her unconscious. When the two arrived at their floor, Rice then attempted to drag his wife into the hall with no apparent concern for her well-being. On May 20, Rice evaded prosecution for aggravated assault charges by enrolling in a pre-trial program that would drop all charges within one year.

Rice and Palmer appeared together at the media function three months later to publicly address the “situation.” At the end of Rice’s prepared statement, he turned the floor over to his wife. She, too, thanked those who had supported them, but she then went on to say that she “deeply regret[ted] the role she played in the incident that night.” The soundbite of this quote went on to grace media outlets ranging from angry feminist advocacy groups to the Twitter account of the Baltimore Ravens.

An unfortunate amount of the media coverage in this controversy seems to surround Janay Palmer’s decisions. To ask questions like why this woman would choose to stay with her abuser is to blame the victim rather than to face the larger issues at hand. The NFL and the Baltimore Ravens almost succeeded in allowing a domestic aggressor to retain his idolized and revered status in the community, and Ray Rice nearly escaped the incident with little to no penalty. What does this teach people in positions of power and notoriety about the consequences of their actions? What does this passivity and compliance say about our societal standards?

TMZ publicly released the surveillance footage of the attack on Sept. 8, sending waves of shock and outrage across the internet. Before the video was made public, Rice had received a mere two-game suspension from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, a shockingly lenient punishment for the severity of the crime and the magnitude of Rice’s fame. Pressured by angry responses to the graphic and disturbing video, Goodell changed his decision, and both the NFL and the Ravens suspended Rice indefinitely.

The trivialization of Janay Palmer’s traumatic experience is reflected in society’s reaction to her attack. We’ve watched, commented on, judged and shared the video footage thousands of times, minimizing her pain and obsessing over her victimhood. Yet this is just one major example indicating a larger cultural attitude surrounding domestic violence: It is easier to blame the victim, the circumstance and the singularity of the incident than it is to address and attack the widespread pain and suffering inflicted by domestic violence. A more appropriate way to approach this footage would be to ask how we as a society allowed this to happen and how we can change — how, in other words, we failed Janay Palmer.

In its first “Thursday Night Football” telecast following the summer of controversy, CBS decided to pull Rihanna’s singing of the “Run This Town” chorus, dropping the music from all future telecasts soon after. Explaining this decision, Chairman of CBS Sports Sean McManus said that Rihanna’s history as a victim of domestic abuse was “among several factors but not the overriding one” considered in the decision. Rihanna’s penalization for being the recipient of a beating is upsetting, disturbing and dishearteningly reflective of the same societal attitude towards domestic violence victims seen throughout coverage of the Ray Rice ordeal. In her response to the punishment, Rihanna addressed CBS on Twitter, writing, “F–you! Y’all are sad for penalizing me for this.” I couldn’t agree more.