Not sure what I was expecting.
So without too much recapping, this post is about Ray Rice. If you don’t want to read/hear about it then screw. There’s plenty of places to go bury your head. Ray Rice, a professional athlete, punched his fiancee (now wife) in the face, then dragged her unconscious body out of an elevator and left her on the floor. These are facts. They have always been facts. So when I watched the video that TMZ posted of this happening, I’m not sure what I was expecting. And though I loathe TMZ, I gave them the clickviews they were so desperately after and watched grainy security footage of Ray Rice punching Janay Palmer in the face, knocking her unconscious.
Shortly after the video was released, the Internet promptly exploded into its usual brand of do-nothing indignation. The Ravens terminated Rice’s contract, the NFL suspended him indefinitely, and the pro football media – so firmly in the NFL’s pocket – began its glad-handing and renegging.
What we don’t know.
Despite that it was reported as fact by multiple NFL reporters/”insiders,” we now don’t know if the NFL officials (namely commissioner Roger Goddell) ever saw this footage when they issued their initial 2-game suspension/slap on the wrist to Rice, because the NFL is denying it and those reporters are back-pedaling. They reported that the NFL was investigating when it was in the league’s best interested to appear invested (and partook in everyone’s favorite domestic violence past-time: victim blaming), and now they’re retracting those statements when it’s in the league’s best interest to appear ignorant. Because I suppose ignorance is a step up from callousness.
What we do know.
Nothing in that last fucking paragraph matters at all. It only matters in the court of public opinion for the purposes of determining just how big of pieces of shit Roger Goddell, and the rest of the league brass, are. Because here’s the thing: we’ve always known what happened. Ray Rice punched his wife in face and knocked her unconscious. A grown man/professional athlete/supposed role model/cash-cow took his fist, attached to 212lbs of muscle, and drove it into the face of a woman whom he purports to love with enough violent force that her body’s instinctive reaction was to stop functioning.
This is a fact. This has always been a fact. Roger Goddell and the NFL knew this whether they saw the video or not. It just makes it all the more horrifyingly callous to imagine that they could watch this video, shrug, and hand down a two-game suspension.
“A man’s game.”
I watched Sunday’s Patriots/Dolphins game, and later that night when nothing else was on, I watched the end of the Colts/Broncos game. Both games went back and forth and remained in question until the fourth quarter where comebacks were stymied in thrilling fashion.
Football is an exhilarating, engaging sport. The NFL is the only purveyor of professional football*. On Sundays from September through February our national zeitgeist is focused solely on football. It is a hallmark of our culture; a whited sepulcher housing our greatest shame within our “greatest game.”
The issue at hand goes beyond Ray Rice. It is systemic. It is cultural. The NFL cares more about making money than it does about battered spouses, because we care more about football as a society than we do about domestic violence. If boycotting football meant the end of domestic violence in this country, I highly doubt that the NFL’s ratings would even see a dip. To illustrate this point, here’s a response to something I posted on Facebook:
[Boycotting] would be a whole lot more plausible if the NFL didn’t hold a monopoly on professional football. You’re god damn right I’m not eating a Chik-Fil-A, the fuckers, but that’s cuz I can get fried chicken six feet away at KFC or where ever else. If Chik-Fil-A was the only place in the world where I could eat fried chicken, well I’m pretty sure I’d find myself in line with a bottle of honey mustard and bbq sauce sauce in each hand.
This is from a person whom I know has gay friends, and I’m confident is a staunch supporter of gay rights. He is, however, ultimately unaffected by the plight of homosexuals in America. An embodiment of all that is straight white male privilege (a term I have come to loathe less and less). So he does what most of us do: the bare minimum. Of course I won’t eat at Chik-Fil-A because that’s a “sacrifice” that doesn’t take something away from me that I enjoy. But how could I stop watching football? Isn’t it worth a couple battered spouses for such high quality entertainment? Maybe we can add Domestic Assaults (DA) to the TD/INT ratios, you know, to raise awareness.
I don’t mean to single out this person, because that reduces this to a “not all men” argument. The issue is that we all do it. A Facebook group called NFL Memes shared this gem yesterday:
Charming. A female friend liked it (along with 37,000+ other people). A male friend shared it. Tacit agreement that women are less important than football – even to the men who care about them – delivered in meme form. Misogyny monetized and marginalized.
And, of course, this goes beyond gender issues. Simply taking the NFL as a microcosm of American society we get a nice rainbow of our worst features: homophobia, racism, violence, victim blaming, animal abuse, child abuse, gun safety, gang violence, bullying, drunk driving. Turtles all the way down. None of this, of course, is as bad as smoking weed, but I digress.
The NFL is an entity that values profit over humanity, whether that be born out in their refusal to pay cheerleaders minimum wage, their woeful safety policies (especially related to concussions), their utterly maligned morality, or their history of protecting domestic abusers. The NFL doesn’t care about its employees, its players, or anyone else that might get in the way of them charging $60 for a pink, bedazzled Ray Rice jersey. The only way to affect a change in culture is to force it, and the only way to force the NFL to do anything is to vote with your money.
Sadly, even if everyone that sees that reads this joined me in boycotting the NFL, it ultimately wouldn’t make a difference, because its not just an NFL cultural issue, it’s an American cultural issue. We care more about tackles and passes than battered spouses and cold-blooded murder.
What’s worse is, as I said before, this extends beyond the NFL. Palmer (Rice) ultimately dropped the charges against Rice and apologized for the “role that she played in the night of the incident.”
What’s sick is that she probably convinced herself/was convinced that she was in some way culpable for what happened. Our culture of victim blaming and athlete deification has rendered Janay Palmer (Rice) as defenseless in our society as she was in that elevator. To chastise or criticize her for not pressing charges and for ultimately marrying Rice is to miss the point. She’s not “stupid” for doing these things; they are, to her, her safest course of action. The devil you know is better than the one you don’t, because this isn’t just a Ray Rice issue, it’s not just a NFL issues, it’s a societal issue.
And there’s the rub. Acknowledgement of a problem is, as always, the first step. It is also, as always, never the last. I’m no longer going to watch the NFL, but I’m not going to call for a boycott. I’m not going to ask you to ask yourself any deep, introspective questions. Even if I had the persuasive power to affect everyone who reads this, it would be an inconsequential drop out of the NFL’s bucket, and an even smaller impact on society as a whole.
So why write about it? Because I think it is important. Because when I asked myself whether I thought a person’s human rights and safety were more or less important than watching Tom Brady this Sunday, I found the answer surprisingly easy. Because it is my hope that people will read and be affected by it, and maybe do something about it.
Because if we do nothing at all, and expect change to happen… I’m not sure what we’re expecting.
* For reasons too numerous to count I am willfully neglecting any discussion of college football and the NCAA. Even I run out of vitriol and indignation at some point.