There were police reports, the NFL’s initial reaction, the public outcry, the NFL’s subsequent response, and on Monday, the release of the Ray Rice video that went viral and changed everything. Well, almost everything.
Janay Rice stands by her man. The football player. The strong, muscular running back who punched her in the face, knocked her unconscious, dragged her limp body out of a hotel elevator, and then hovered before casually retrieving a shoe, displaying nothing remotely resembling concern, regret or a sense of urgency.
On Tuesday, the victim took to Instagram and chided members of the media for messing up the couple’s life.
“What don’t you all get?” she wrote. “If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, and take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow and show the world what real love is!”
After reading her posts, my first question was this: What world is Janay Rice living in? And my next question was this: How do we help?
Domestic violence is a societal problem, but it’s also an NFL problem. The Ray Rice and Ray McDonald cases are only the most recent additions to an expanding list. According to USA Today, 77 players have been involved in 85 domestic violence incidents since January 2000, with spousal battery accounting for 48 percent of violent crime allegations – significantly higher than the national average of 21 percent. Stats provided by the San Diego Union-Tribune’s database are equally chilling: During the 2012 season, 21 of the league’s 32 rosters included at least one player who had been accused of or arrested on charges of domestic violence or sexual assault.
In other words, the only thing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has protected during his tenure is the league’s lusty bottom line. And that’s not good enough. Not after the Rice videos, another Janay Rice apology – why should a victim ever apologize? – and the 49ers’ refusal to take action against McDonald until the “entire legal process” has played out, as team president Jed York reiterated Tuesday.
It’s time for Goodell to start acting like a leader and stop catering to the often-conflicting whims of his franchises. Otherwise, he should resign. The owners, executives and coaches of the Baltimore Ravens and the 49ers should not be empowered with dictating policy or deciding what elements constitute bad behavior or, worse, criminal acts that in the real world might result in prison terms.
“I didn’t get it right,” Goodell admitted after Rice avoided prosecution by entering a diversion program and in late May received a mere two-game suspension from the league. Clearly reacting to intense public pressure, the commissioner recently scrapped the old rules governing domestic violence and unilaterally implemented a more punitive system that levies a six-game suspension for a first offense and a lifetime ban for the second.
That was a powerful statement, a promising start. Suspending Rice indefinitely after a second, more disturbing video was released was another appropriate and reasonable decision. But sitting quietly on the sidelines while the San Jose Police Department determines whether to file felony domestic abuse charges against McDonald – and while the 49ers allow the defensive end in their locker room and on their field – is a feeble, too familiar response.
McDonald should be suspended, with pay, while the authorities investigate the cause of the injuries visible on the neck and arms of his pregnant fiancée. And that should be Goodell’s call, not the call of York, Trent Baalke or Jim Harbaugh, the head coach whose repeated references to “due process” neglect to mention that, in California, visible injuries in domestic situations are grounds for arrest.
“There were marks on her (McDonald’s fiancée),” noted Julie Bornhoeft, a spokesperson for WEAVE. “That is not a rumor. And injuries to the neck are particularly dangerous, often are an indicator of strangulation, of an escalating situation. We see that a lot. It’s very much a red flag and plenty to keep him (McDonald) on the bench.”
While troubled by the NFL’s inaction regarding McDonald, Bornhoeft noted one benefit to the airing of the Rice videos: a spike in phone calls to WEAVE’s hotline.
“We take about 10,000 calls a year,” she said, “and our support staff has definitely been busier these last several days. No one can speak to where Janay Rice is right now. She is someone who is being re-victimized. We see it every day. But this is spurring a lot of people to look at their own situations. The decision to leave a violent relationship is a process, not an event.
“What ultimately will determine how committed the NFL is will be Ray McDonald. He won’t be the last player arrested. Does the league continue to take a wait-and-see approach? Or are they going to walk the walk and take action?”
Rice sits. So far, McDonald walks. The NFL is not there yet.