I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t understand football, which seems blasphemous at a place like USC. I do, however, enjoy the feeling of unity between everyone while watching a game and shouting expletives at the other team. When we win, strangers jump up and down and give each other hugs, as if instead of fans we’re all comrades during a war. Yet, everything I know about football I learned from Eric Taylor’s inspirational speeches on Friday Night Lights.
What I do understand, however, is that the Ray Rice scandal has revealed the behind-the-scenes reality in the sport and the sad treatment of domestic abuse. I haven’t watched the series of graphic videos because I think that would just give power to Rice’s actions, but according to Time, the first entails Rice dragging then-fiancée, now wife, Janay Palmer out of a casino elevator after apparently knocking her out. This was in February 2014. They got married shortly after the incident. On Sept. 8, new footage, leaked by TMZ, surfaced that showed Rice brutally hitting Palmer back in February. The NFL, according to the Associated Press, had reportedly received a copy of the violent video early in April, but only suspended Rice for two days. Only recently, after the TMZ leak, was the NFL pressured to suspend Rice indefinitely.
I used to believe in the separation of private and public spheres. To a certain degree, I still hold on to that opinion, but the recent Ray Rice videos that have taken the internet by storm have led me to believe a person’s professional and private life can’t be separated when there is a bigger issue to consider — in this case, domestic violence.
A running back for the Baltimore Ravens, Rice has had a decorated career. According to ESPN, Rice signed a five-year, $40 million contract with his team in 2012. The following year, the Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. Though Rice’s last season hit a slight slump, he still carried his team in multiple games.
Needless to say, I understand that Rice played a major role in the Ravens’ glory. Football has also become an integral part of American culture. Yet, that still doesn’t mean that Rice’s deeds can be overlooked. A Sports Illustrated column, “Monday Morning Quarterback,” states that for football players, marijuana detection leads to an automatic four-game suspension. There are other strict disciplinary guidelines detailing how to treat players that misuse other substances. Meanwhile, Rice initially received only a two-game suspension early in the football season for beating Palmer to a point of unconsciousness. Legal charges against him were also dropped.
This light punishment trivializes domestic abuse even more, dismissing it as just an unfortunate incident. It’s akin to saying when strangers assault other strangers someone should go to jail, but when a significant other assault someone her or she supposedly loves, it’s OK to return home. The way NFL handled this issue is deplorable. The NFL dealt with misconduct by simply slapping Rice’s wrist and letting him go, responding only when there was a possibility of glaring public outrage. This reveals the organization’s values and what sports entertainment has become. It’s no longer just about the people gathering together to cheer on teams in good spirit. Rather, it’s about the image of the stars and how it affects ticket sales.
Of course, we can’t forget the victim of this domestic violence, Janay Palmer — now Janay Rice. She released a statement not long after Rice’s suspension saying she would stand by her husband through these times. She posted on her Instagram, “To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass [off] for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific.” This spurred a movement that trended on Twitter: #whyistayed. Victims of domestic violence elaborated on their turmoil, allowing people to see that the focus should not solely be on Rice but on how we can prevent this psychological abuse. There are factors that go beyond leaving or not leaving that complicate this abusive dynamic.
Moving forward, the NFL needs to team up with the #whyistayed movement in exploring the psychological damage involved with violent relationships. This way, the media will start putting more focus on the issue at hand. Football should promote respect and camaraderie off the field as well as on it.
Even I can understand that about football.
Danni Wang is a sophomore majoring in psychology. Her column, “Pop Fiction,” runs Mondays.