The "indefinite suspension" of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for knocking out his then-fiancée, now wife, in an elevator at an Atlantic City casino has again provoked debate about domestic violence and what the National Football League tolerates when it affects a star player.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, who last spring testified to Rice's good character, says a new video has "changed things." Rice was initially suspended for two games after part of a video showed Rice dragging fiancée Janay Palmer from the elevator. When TMZ released the rest of the video, it showed Rice punching Palmer in the face inside the elevator, knocking her unconscious. The video also shows her spitting at him and both of them exchanging obscenities.
How does one parse domestic violence? Footage of a player dragging an unconscious woman from an elevator gets the player a two-day suspension, but footage of the act that put her in that condition gets him suspended indefinitely? If Condoleezza Rice were the commissioner of the NFL, as the former secretary of state has said she might like to be, or if any other woman held that office, the first response to the video would likely have been less indulgent towards Rice.
Incredibly, Rice's wife has apologized for contributing to Rice's behavior. This is like apologizing to a street thug for getting in the way of his knife or gun. Unfortunately, too many women enable their violent boyfriends or husbands by blaming themselves, either because of low self-esteem, or in some instances because they become accustomed to a lavish lifestyle.
There is no excuse other than legitimate life-preserving self-defense for a man becoming physically violent towards a woman. In the high-paying and privileged atmosphere of the NFL, players have a responsibility to behave themselves in ways that do not damage their teams, the sport or the willingness of fans to shell out a lot of money that contributes to riches these players could earn nowhere else.
Hollywood once had its film stars sign contracts that included morals clauses. Maybe the NFL should consider an updated version of such clauses to project a better image and encourage players not to engage in self-destructive (and otherwise destructive) behavior.
While most NFL players are responsible citizens, and some have used social media to denounce Rice's behavior, the culture from which many players emerge ought to be indicted for its contributions to the violence that occurs too often off the field.
The demeaning language applied to women in rap music has been chronicled for many years. Few of the words can be printed here, but "bitches" and "hos" are some of the milder ones. Google "gangsta rap lyrics" if you need a lesson in what contributes to this devaluing of women.
After part of the video was released last spring, Ray Rice and Janay Palmer appeared together before the media. Rice apologized for his behavior, but not to Palmer. He simply thanked her. Rice said, "I want to thank her for loving me when I was weak and building me when I was strong."
Writing on the website SportsGrid.com, Jake O'Donnell commented: "...this is how abusive relationships happen. Woman gets beat unconscious. Clearly is victim. Develops Stockholm Syndrome. Somehow feels responsible. Apologizes."
Players should be told they are part of a unique club and bad behavior will cost them more than fines and brief suspensions. They need counseling about money (former Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs has taught such courses to that team's young players) and especially about women.
If the NFL wants to help itself in this area more, women should be put in positions of power where they could not only provide a useful check on players, but on the predominately male management that has for too long made excuses for outrageous and even criminal behavior.