By Jennie Sekanics
Within the past two weeks, media outlets have expressed frenzied outrage over the gone-viral video of Raymell Mourice Rice (also known as Ray Rice) abusing his partner, Janay Palmer. Of course, this appalled reaction was justified since Ray Rice not only knocked her unconscious but carelessly left her body on the ground with her skirt up, revealing the lower half of her body. Much of the public, perhaps excluding zealous Ravens fans, demanded for Rice’s football career to be terminated and for justice to be served. But Ray Rice is not the problem — he is an agent, one of many faces of the continuous issues perpetuated by football culture.
Studies have been completed by several different sources on the relative percentage of crimes committed by the men of the NFL. Research compiled by FiveThirtyEight, a polling aggregation website owned by ESPN, revealed that there is currently a 55.4 percent arrest rate for NFL Players ages 25-29 upon the charges of domestic violence. Morris writes, “That 55.4 percent is more than four times worse than the league’s arrest rate for all offenses (13 percent), and domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to our estimated 21 percent nationally.”
A study produced by Deadspin, another major sports news outlet owned by Gawker Media, revealed that the league has 34 percent more arrests for violent crimes such as assault, battery, and domestic violence than the general population. Clearly, there is an evident correlation between involvement with the NFL and perpetuating assault, specifically in the form of domestic violence and violence against women.
These statistics demonstrate how the solution to the problem is not just suspending Ray Rice from the NFL indefinitely (although, it is better than the two week suspension he initially received) and soiling all Rice jerseys in the name of his crime. The answer is not limited to the individual people who have committed these violent offences, despite the fact that their arrests and penalties are well-deserved. (Let’s not talk about the perpetrators who went unscathed for the sake of my sanity.) If we want tangible change, if we want actual, statistical results, the solution, I’m afraid, is much more complicated that.
Domestic violence represents a power struggle. Its roots are entrenched deeply in the need to exert force over another and validate their unquestionable control. Where does this power struggle originate? How is it influenced by the NFL?
Firstly, it is ingrained in our language. Common sports colloquialisms reflect the societally-deemed “inevitable” knowledge that men are stronger than and superior to women. “You throw like a girl,” “Stop being a pussy,” “You’re a sissy.” These frequently used parlances indicate some sort of failure, or recognize the existence of a flaw, for behaving “like a girl.” Mistakes or mishaps upon throwing a ball or demonstrating some sort of athletic skill become associated with feminization and thus, weakness. This language permeates a belief that men have access to a power threshold that women do not and women, accordingly, must submit to the male upper hand.
This jargon ultimately serves as the manifestation of violent crimes against women and as it is extremely prevalent within the NFL, there is no qualm as to why percentages for arrests for domestic violence are high and more particularly, much higher than the general population.
Moreover, the way in which the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell has handled cases of assault reflects how lowly women place upon the scale of priority in male-dominated realms (such as our present-day society — America, the beautiful). With the common response to domestic violence being mostly limited to a temporary suspension from games, the issue of domestic violence is devalued and diluted into the conversation of hampering fantasy football teams rather than standing as what it actually is—a crime against humanity.
Women are not treated as humans in this matter and become entities irrelevant to men and their experiences. The lack of respect Janay Palmer has been given for her responses to the assault is also reflective of the way in which society regards women and the experiences they must withstand at the hands of men, even the ones they love.
Janay Palmer is allowed to love her partner, Ray Rice, and not desire to press charges. This is a right she is welcome to perform as it is hers and a part of her agency as a human being. The outrage at Ray Rice’s actions harms her in the fact that it essentially silences her voice, as how the media handles Rice’s crime overpowers her input on the issue in level of importance, which is unfortunate, as her voice deserves to be heard as the victim/survivor of such abuse.
The focus shouldn’t be placed upon Janay Palmer’s decision not to press charges or leave her partner nor should her experience be delegitimized because she has chosen to do so. The takeaway from this current event should not be that Ray Rice is unique, crazy, and only an individual perpetuator of violence against women and the lack of reverence for women.
The ultimate concentration should rest upon the overwhelming fact that women need to be respected and accounted for within our language. (Yes, I’m talking to all of you who say “guys” when referring to a mixed gendered group.) This occurrence should highlight the need for comprehensive education on how to maintain healthy, balanced relationships and obliterate the need to exert power over another, which is reinforced by the principles of football — a game that utilizes physical power struggles as its main dynamic.
Ray Rice is not the problem; he is a part of a much larger male desire for power permeated by socially-acceptable notions — such as our gender-policing and hierarchy-indicating language — and social institutions, such as America’s precious National Football League.