CLEVELAND - I am undeniably and unapologetically a champion for women’s rights and an advocate for victims of violence of any kind. Yet former pro football player Ray Rice, who is well known for striking his then-fiance back in 2014 wants to return to the NFL and I am actually not opposed to it. Let me explain.
There is an old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” For Rice, a video was worth millions of dollars and countless reactions.
I still remember exactly when I first watched the video of the former NFL running back knocking out Janay. I pressed play and then gasped in horror. The graphic nature of the video evoked an emotional response that included feelings of anger and confusion.
The NFL initially handed down a two-game suspension for Rice, who played for the Baltimore Ravens at that time. Before seeing that video, I thought that was absolutely absurd. After the video was released by TMZ, the league really looked misogynistic and careless. So they subsequently suspended him indefinitely.
Ultimately, the NFL’s ruling was overturned and Rice was reinstated. But he has been out of a job since the Ravens cut him in 2014.
Rice was not the first athlete to be a domestic abuser. He was not the last. But he did become the poster child for domestic violence.
The running back has not been able to escape his reality. If anything, he seems to have faced it head on. He agreed to undergo court-supervised counseling. He also decided to get across a message. Rice has spoken out to youth about domestic violence. He does not shy away from the subject when he talks to media.
If Rice gets a job, he says he’ll donate his salary to raising awareness for domestic violence. He has said his desire to return to the NFL is not about fame and fortune but rather an opportunity to correct a wrong.
I don’t believe in GIVING people second chances, but I do think someone can EARN second chances. It appears as though Rice is doing everything he can to regain trust and even forgiveness with hope that a second opportunity might follow.
As far as his talent level, Rice rushed for 660 yards in 2013 but he was playing through an injury. He rushed for more than 1,100 yards for the four consecutive seasons prior to 2013. He has the skills to at least be in camp and NFL scouts have told me he could possibly serve a team in a backup role.
Rice never got an invitation to a camp. Maybe that stems from the fact that domestic violence is a problem that most NFL teams wish would just disappear.
According to Safe Horizon, one in four women and one in seven men will be victims of domestic violence or abuse in their lifetime. Rice’s video from the past coupled with his present day advocacy forces the conversation about domestic violence and highlights the fact that its a serious problem in the league and society, which is a threat to the NFL and its teams.
Through a new policy, which includes suspensions of at least six games for first offenses and possible lifetime bans for a second offenses and NFL sponsored commercials, the league is trying to convince an audience that they are taking a stand when, in fact, its teams are still too often sitting down.
Even though Cleveland Browns owner Dee Haslam is on the NFL’s conduct committee, the Browns are among the teams that would like to avoid the discussion of domestic violence. When Johnny Manziel was accused of domestic violence, the Browns showed sympathy for both Manziel and his alleged victim but did not take the opportunity to further address or discuss domestic violence, other than that it would not be tolerated.
Courtesy of the Browns, the legendary Jim Brown is about to be immortalized with a statue at First Energy Stadium. He is known for being a mentor to players within the organization. But Brown admitted in his book to slapping multiple women. It is not something of which he is proud but rather something he refers to as his weakness. Brown would be a great candidate to discuss domestic violence with players as well as the public, so people can learn from his mistakes as opposed to assume it’s an acceptable behavior for great athletes.
The reality is domestic violence is a pervasive problem, yet still a taboo subject.
Domestic violence goes on in sports and in society often unproven or unknowingly.
Therefore, not tolerating a current and known behavior and not wanting to talk about and appropriately and consistently acknowledge a widespread problem are two different issues.
These teams have good reason to stay quiet and avoid people that catalyze a discussion about why and how.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, only 25 percent of all physical assaults are reported to the police.
A study published in online in the Journal of Criminal Justice says overall NFL players are arrested at a lower rate than men their age who are not NFL players, but researchers found that NFL players had a higher arrest rate for violent crimes than the general population during six of 14 years studied.
If awareness is raised, it could make more women and people less tolerant of such behavior. Thus, if there is an increase of reported cases the league could lose a significant amount of players to suspensions, which would not only be terrible for the product on the field but even worse for the league’s image off the field.
It’s not just who’s committing the crime that’s problematic for the league but why they might be doing so.
Over the last decade or so concussions have become a major concern in football. According to the NFHS, participation in high school football has been down six of last seven years. CTE is the disease linked to concussions. According to one Harvard study, CTE can cause behavioral changes including violent behavior.
CTE is diagnosed posthumously, so there is no way to know, among the living, who suffers from the disease. However, Rice is a running back, a position that endures a significant amount of blows to the head.
Discussing the link between concussions and violent behavior further threatens the sports as it highlights the potential dangers of the game and the quality of life for its participants and their families.
Athletes like the Bengals Adam Jones and the Jets Brandon Marshall suit up despite having been accused of violence against women. Even accused domestic violence offender Greg Hardy got another shot.
Unlike the aforementioned athletes, Rice stars in the notorious video that causes his presence and image to force the conversation of and questioning about domestic violence in a way that no other accused offender does.
Thus, Rice has become the scapegoat, continuing to punish him makes it appear as though the league and its teams care about the issue of domestic violence. In actuality, by ostracizing Rice, who has gotten help and appears to want to do better, teams can also avoid fully addressing the issue and why it is happening.
Rice’s talent level, albeit good enough to be in the discussion to at least make a roster, is not good enough to make it worth the scrutiny on an issue that plagues the NFL and its athletes. .
Rice’s video is and should be worth many things, but it should not be worth one man absorbing the punishment for all the unknown and unproven abusers, so that the league and its teams can pretend they care about people when truly their primary concern is protecting the game.