The recent media coverage of the videotaped assault involving former Ravens player Ray Rice and his wife has brought a necessary spotlight on domestic abuse, both within the NFL and in society as a whole. It’s undoubtedly a good thing that domestic abuse has become a key issue in public discourse, but I’ve observed a worrying trend in the articles I’ve read and the conversations I’ve had about domestic abuse in the past few weeks. While I agree with the increasing vilification with which abuse and those who abuse are treated, I think it’s essential that we don’t lose the ability to contextualize and objectively discuss these cases.
A physically stronger man striking a physically weaker woman is important context, but it is not the only context that matters; there is an increasing unwillingness to consider questions other than those of gender. Was the man on an unprovoked rampage, ruthlessly pummeling his fiancée for his own perverse satisfaction, or was the couple engaged in a heated dispute in which both parties were acting recklessly and being violent? Irrelevant, many today would claim; the man is a monster. Is there evidence that the relationship is a habitually abusive one in which the woman is trapped, or has the couple expressed mutual regret for their roles in what they insist is a one-time incident, since both entering counseling and getting married? What a misogynistic question, some would reflexively claim, pay it no mind. When the suggestion of further contextualization is an inflammatory one, it’s a warning sign that your argument is not coming from a place of objectivity and pure reason.
As a society, we understand the necessity of contextualizing murder. We recognize that a man unintentionally shooting his wife in the heat of an argument is different than a man brutally stabbing his wife twenty-eight times during a similarly impassioned disagreement, which is different than a man plotting to kill his wife and carrying out his plan in cold blood. Our judgment of the act of violence is hugely dependent on the details of the case. The increased anger felt towards the issue of domestic violence is a positive development, but we must be careful not to lose our ability to think about the individual cases objectively and carefully.
Given the specifics of the Ray Rice case, especially when contrasted with other instances of abuse, I don’t think it’s fair or justified that he has become a monster in the eyes of society and in many ways the primary scapegoat of our newfound focus on persecuting domestic abusers. According to NFL.com, a domestic complaint was filed in 2012 against fellow Ravens player Terrell Suggs, alleging that he had “punched [his girlfriend] in the neck and dragged her alongside a speeding car with their two children in the vehicle.” Currently, Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy is facing charges relating to a domestic abuse incident during which he picked “[his former girlfriend] up, threw her into the bathroom, dragged her into the bedroom, choked her, picked her up again,” throwing her onto a couch covered in assault rifles and/or shotguns and bragging that all of those assault rifles were loaded, as reported by CNN. While Rice has been released by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely from the NFL in the wake of the release of the tape of his assault, Suggs faced no criminal or league punishment. Hardy, whose own abuse case followed the Rice scandal and was subject to high levels of scrutiny, has been placed on a special list of exempt players, meaning he will still be paid his full salary without playing until the legal process of his case concludes. The obvious discrepancies between the responses to these cases illustrates the prevalence of improperly contextualized reactions to domestic abuse.
Clearly, neither the NFL nor the court of public opinion is doing a flawless job of doling out judgments and punishments in a fair or consistent manner, and I think this is largely the result of outrage, such as that caused by TMZ’s release of the Rice video, obscuring the relative contexts of domestic abuse cases.
I firmly believe that, altogether, the recent discussion and media coverage have changed our perception of and sensitivity to the severity of domestic for the better. However, I also firmly maintain that while sensitivity is extremely important, refraining from allowing sensitivity to cloud reality is much more crucial.
Sources: ESPN, NFL.com, CNN