With a single punch, Ray Rice was able to do something that abuse activists and law enforcement officials have been unable to do for decades.
The country is talking about the scourge of domestic violence. In public. In schools. At the office watercooler. Hopefully, at the dinner table, and with calm, rational voices.
There is nothing calm or rational about what Rice did. Ugly is one way to explain it. Sickening is another. But whispering about it uncomfortably in private no longer will do. In fact, talking about domestic violence — with all its pain and hurt — is one thing. Seeing it — even on a grainy surveillance videotape — is something else altogether. Experiencing it must be hellish.
Such was the impact of that single punch. When Ray Rice’s fist came in contact with the face of his then-fiancee — now wife — it shattered the veil of silence that too often surrounds this issue, often relegated to hushed tones and family secrets.
Don’t believe it? Ask Roger Goodell. He just happens to be the emperor of one of the most successful business ventures in the world. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s called the National Football League.
The NFL has turned violent collisions between large men into a multibillion-dollar enterprise. They have been less successful in corralling other types of violence when it occurs outside the field of play.
Rice was an All-Star running back with the Baltimore Ravens. He first came on the NFL’s radar in connection with domestic violence back in February. That’s when the first videotape of the aftermath of his encounter with Janay Palmer surfaced.
The encounter — on Valentine’s Day weekend of all things — showed Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of the elevator. What was not shown — until the second video exploded across the nation last week — was what happened inside the elevator.
And it was at this point that it became clear that law enforcement as well as the NFL were much more interested in making this go away than dealing with the serious issue of domestic violence.
The case was passed off to a grand jury, which eventually charged Rice with felony aggravated assault. Incredibly, he was accepted into a pretrial intervention program that allowed him to avoid jail and eventually have his record expunged.
The reaction of the NFL was even worse. Goodell, who rode into office after Paul Tagliabue as a tough guy bent on cleaning up the game, and getting tough on substance abusers, issued a meek two-game suspension. So great was the outcry over a punishment that judged domestic violence less serious than substance abuse that Goodell was forced to fall on his sword, admitting, “I didn’t get it right.” He still hasn’t. Goodell insists his office asked for all video connected to the case, but it was never made available and no one in the NFL offices had seen the tape before it went viral on Monday.
That’s now been contradicted by an Associated Press report quoting a law enforcement source saying a copy of the tape was sent to the NFL offices in April, replete with a voice mail confirmation that what was on the tape “was terrible.”
Goodell, who couldn’t possibly look worse in all of this, is now taking a page out of Penn State’s playbook, bringing in a former FBI director to investigate how the NFL handled the incident, much as the Nittany Lions did in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
At least the league revisited the issue. First-time offenders now face a six-game suspension.
In the meantime, the Ravens rallied around Rice, saying they “respect the efforts Ray has made to become the best partner and father he can be.”
Then the second video arrived. Rice knocked out his wife. As well as any sense that the NFL was serious about domestic violence.
Even before the bombshell AP story, Goodell’s explanation — that the league requested all video but was never granted that opportunity — thus allowing him to say no one in the NFL had seen the tape before it aired on Monday, strains credulity. It’s hard to believe an entity as powerful as the NFL could not get its hands on the video, while TMZ had no such problems. It smacks instead of the way too many in this nation have regarded domestic violence: They didn’t want to know.
None of us have that option now.
Ray Rice’s left fist knocked out that option forever.