Why We’re All A Little Bit to Blame for Ray Rice

We now know beyond question, down to the exact direction of the punch and the look of the woman slumped over in the minutes after, that Ray Rice hit his then-fiance while in an elevator back in the spring. Arguably we knew that before, but now we know that we can’t pretend we didn’t know.

There is plenty to be upset about in the video — which I don’t feel like posting or linking to here, not because I haven’t seen it, but simply because I don’t like contributing to the turning of someone’s pain (her’s, not his) into entertainment. Yes, you should be upset by the video. Be upset about the existence of violence in relationships that are supposed to be the opposite of violent. Be upset, have your stomach churn, to know that this is what that violence looks like for millions of women. Be pissed off, be angry that we allow this to exist all the time, all around us, as long as we don’t have to face on video what happens behind closed doors. Know that the NFL most likely knew what happened behind those doors — knows what happens behind the doors of more than a few of its players — but finds it more profitable to feign ignorance. Know that you are a part of those profits. Because if you’re going to be angry, be pissed at yourself a little too.

The biggest problem I have with turning Ray Rice into an example of how we aren’t going to stand this kind of domestic violence in our national pasttime is that in doing so we’re taking ourselves off the hook for being a part of the culture that nurtures and creates him. It’s the same thing we do when we demonize dopers or force the exit of an executive for writing an email that said explicitly the semi-racist things that are undoubtably often said vaguely by most people in the upper offices. What we are doing is blaming one terrible person for being awful, making it their fault and only their fault, instead of acknowledging any fault the system might have for allowing them to exist in the first place.

Yes, 100%, absolutely, choosing to hit your fiance/now-wife is a personal reflection of your shittiness, for which no one else is responsible. I am in no way absolving him of knocking a woman unconscious and then dragging her out of the elevator.

What I am saying is that he is not the first and will not be the last professional football player to do so. What I am saying is that we deify these men for their prowess at violence. We shower them with money and ask in exchange that they catch a ball or throw a ball or stop someone else from catching a ball. That is all we ask. And, if they do it well, we throw parties and fund fantasy teams and buy their jerseys. We ignore these players’ many faults, for as long as we can, because it would not be an enjoyable game for us otherwise. (Obviously, football is not the only sport in which we do this, it’s just the biggest.)

Even the smartest and most down-to-earth NFL players, ones who seem like truly good guys, talk about how the violence on the field is hard to escape, how they have to turn themselves into animals to play the game and go into a different kind of mental space, which can be impossible to explain or shake off. There is more and more documented evidence that the damage (brain and otherwise) inflicted on players can change their personalities, can make them more violent and hard to live with. This is what the sport is.

Throwing Ray Rice out of the league and trading in his jerseys isn’t going to change that. (It probably is actually making things a lot worse in that household, in practical terms, if we really cared about helping the woman who was hit.) Firing Roger Goodell might make us feel better too, like real change was on the horizon. And maybe it would be. Maybe. Maybe there’d be counseling and education programs for players. Maybe they’d make some rule changes to get rid of the most egregious unnecessary on-field violence. Maybe NFL executives wouldn’t cover-up what they couldn’t ignore. But, it would take systemic changes that the public would have to call for. It would take us acknowledging a problem that is bigger than just one person.

11 thoughts on “Why We’re All A Little Bit to Blame for Ray Rice

  1. Interesting discussion has cropped up around this post when I linked to it on FB… it reminds me of discussions with teachers about addressing race/racism in our classrooms: everyone is super-quick to say “Oh this isn’t me.” I think they kind of miss your point, or like your previous post about doping, there’s a nuance to this that people miss in the rush to make it a one person’s moral failings type of problem. Complex is so much harder, but so much more intriguing. And probably so much more true.

  2. I’m curious how this has affected your “get more into football” initiative! I was talking about it with my husband the other night, and it’s true, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to deny the violent aspects of football and at least think about how they seep into regular life. And at the same time, there’s a lot of shit in a lot of places, and being angry at football (exclusively — which is not what you’re doing, but is what some people are doing) seems like an easy way to blame one aspect of our culture for lots of ills. I dunno. It’s uncomfortable to be a lifelong football fan right now; I’m also not convinced that my walking away from watching the sport would fix anything.

    1. This is going to sound weird, but this and the other recent episodes of NFL players doing shitty things really isn’t affecting my feelings about the game because it isn’t changing how I viewed it. If that makes sense. Like I already thought the NFL, as corporation, was messed up when all the stuff came out about what they knew about the damage and extent of concussions and when they knew it. And that was them willing to have their own players be hurt.

      So, anyway, I’ve always sort of viewed the entity as a bit separate from the player. I’m not nuts about UCI and yes that can bleed into my enjoyment of the races, depending on how corrupt I think they are at any given time, but I still like the sport. Or, the Olympics. I LOVE the Olympics. But are there a lot of problems with how they’re run? Absolutely. Doesn’t change the fundamentals of the sport.

  3. This analysis is spot-on as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been waiting and waiting for someone to situate this story in the broader football/NFL culture, so thanks for writing it! Good luck at Big Kahuna!

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