By Wendy Widom
CHICAGO (CBS) — The discovery today – through newly released video on TMZ – that Ray Rice was solely responsible for the beating of his then-fiancé (now wife) Janay Palmer in Atlantic City will likely come as no surprise to victims of domestic violence or the family members who have witnessed such horrific acts. It certainly didn’t surprise me, the daughter of a domestic abuse survivor.
Ray Rice, who first spoke publicly in July about the abuse that took place in the Revel Hotel elevator, received a woefully light 2-game suspension from the NFL. Since then, Commissioner Roger Goodell has admitted that he handled the situation poorly, stating in a letter to the 32 team owners, “I didn’t get it right.” Today, just hours after TMZ published the footage of the hulking running back knocking the petite Palmer unconscious, the Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.
We would like to think that justice has been served and that terminating or suspending a player will fix the problem of domestic violence in professional football. But is this actually the case?
Clearly, removing Ray Rice from the game sends a powerful message to players across the NFL that domestic violence will not be excused or tolerated. It pacifies women’s groups and the domestic survivor advocates who are clamoring for more decisive leadership from the NFL. But the Ravens’ and the NFL’s decision is only one step of a larger transformation that needs to take place within professional sports.
When domestic violence takes place in a relationship, it is often not a one-time occurrence. As Gwyn Kaitis, Director of Illinois Domestic Violence Help Line reports, physical abuse “is a crime of power and control over the other person.” She continues, “We know that violence does not often stop after one incident. The reason is that usually the violence works to stop the behavior that is seen as problematic. Victims learn to “walk on eggshells” to prevent further incidents.”
Watching the footage of Ray Rice beating Janay Palmer in the elevator, I couldn’t help but recall the years I spent living with my mother while she was in two abusive relationships, one right after the other. When I think of why Janay Palmer is still married to Rice, I can’t help but recall one instance when I naively thought the violence would end.
It was after a particularly brutal beating that left my mother’s eye deeply bruised. A neighbor must have called the police, because soon a patrol car pulled into our driveway. Two officers knocked heavily on our shabby front door. My mother cracked it open slightly as I stood at the top of the stairs behind her.
Immediately, the officers noticed her eye. “Just shake your head, ma’am.” They said. “Just shake your head and we will take him away.” My mother paused for a second, one long second, and then responded quietly. “It was a TV. I dropped a television.”
If the NFL wants to put a stop to domestic violence, terminating and suspending an abuser should be one of the final steps of a process that begins with education and training. Coaches, doctors and the scores of staff hired to manage and coddle professional athletes need to know how to detect and respond to domestic violence. Players should be required to undergo intense interventions upon the first signs of abuse.
Just as critically, partners should have resources readily available to them so they can seek help and get support right away. According to Kathy Doherty, Executive Director of the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, it takes an astounding seven or eight attempts before a victim finally leaves her (or his) abuser.
For my mother, it took many more beatings, a terrifying gun incident and a police car chase before she finally escaped abusive boyfriend number two, who was eventually arrested and returned to prison. What will it take for Janay Palmer – a woman who back in July said she deeply regrets her role (as if she’s even partly to blame) in the incident – to leave?
The Ravens did the right thing by terminating Ray Rice and the NFL finally did the right thing by suspending him. Now the NFL owners, coaches, players and fans need to hold all athletes accountable, especially when there are no hotel cameras around to capture the violence.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence and you live in Illinois, call the Illinois Domestic Violence Help Line at (312)743-0289.
Warning: the following video contains graphic violence.