Note: the comment is quite embedded in the discussion where it was posted, which is usually not ideal for a guest post, but it makes a lot of the general points about why it matters when “role model” celebrity male athletes beat up women, and I want to see them made.
Kevin, for a guy who’s not trying to defend Rice, you’re getting awfully heated about your position here, and not engaging in fair discussion.
So you are saying there’s a double standard — one for football players and another for the rest of the world. Because “role model”. And because “making an example” of Rice will instantly solve all domestic abuse problems everywhere and always.
Quixote never said that punishing Rice “will instantly solve all domestic abuse problems everywhere and always,” or anything remotely like it. I fail to see why you’re engaging in this kind of hyperbole. Quixote didn’t claim it, and surely you’re not claiming that this is the relevant standard? That we don’t take any action to punish someone unless it will instantly solve all such crimes everywhere and always? No point in jailing one murderer, then, unless it will stop all murders everywhere and forever!
As to the bit about “role models,” yes. The NFL has already taken it upon itself to enforce the off-field, not-strictly-related-to-employment behavior of its players, as has every professional sports league I can think of. Standard player contracts have morals clauses. The league has fined or suspended players for racist or other inappropriate comments on social media or elsewhere (e.g. Riley Cooper), and for criminal behavior that the criminal justice system declined to punish (e.g. Ben Roethlisberger).
None of us just woke up recently and decided to impose this “role model” higher standard on NFL players starting with Ray Rice. The NFL has imposed it on them for quite some time, and Commissioner Goodell made it a point of emphasis when he took the job. The NFL and other sports leagues market themselves, their athletes, and their sport generally based on its character-building properties. We’re just asking the league to be consistent and treat domestic violence like the violent crime it is.
And as to the question of the victim: what does she want? She wants to be left alone. And she doesn’t want her life or his to be ruined by this incident. Why are you diminishing her agency by demanding something on her behalf that she doesn’t herself demand?
The victim’s wishes are not the determining factor in most systems of justice. They can and should be taken into account, but they aren’t dispositive. The criminal justice system doesn’t require the victim’s permission or approval to prosecute someone (though it may be difficult as a practical matter to prosecute without cooperation). A school principal who declined to punish a bully because the victims said not to would be doing a poor job. An employer who kept a violent employee around just because the victim had forgiven him or her would be making a dumb decision.
Basically what you’re saying is, “why should the rest of us care if Janay Rice decides to stay with an abusive man?” I think society has an interest in punishing violent assholes without waiting for them to assault someone other than their partner, or for them to finally assault their partner in a way that the partner won’t forgive (or can’t, because they’re dead). And while I don’t pretend to understand the complex reasons why victims stay with their abusers, I don’t think that it’s the kind of decision that we need to give 100% deference to. I’m not a hard-core libertarian — I’m ok with a little “paternalism” in the form of punishing abusers without the abused’s sign-off.
Again, I have no problem criticizing Rice and no problem with the court system dealing with him. It’s this blood-lust over-the-top fury that has me puzzled. Why? Because it was videotaped? So the lesson really is to “take the stairs”? Because people would be way less upset over this if there were no video.
I agree that the video probably shouldn’t make as much difference as it has. But we’re talking about human beings here, and there’s something visceral about images, and especially video, that provokes a stronger reaction.
But I think the more important factor here is that the video took away most of the excuses. Far too many people — including those in charge at the NFL and the Ravens — seemed to have more empathy for Ray than Janay. They saw the initial, post-elevator video, and immediately their minds turn to constructing scenarios under which Ray’s actions are justifiable or at least excusable in some way: “well, maybe she was viciously attacking him and he was just defending himself,” “well, maybe he just shoved her slightly and she lost her balance and hit her head,” “well, maybe she ran into his fist.”
It’s the same way that so many people reacted to the prospect of harassment policies at conferences by constructing scenarios where they were the accused harasser, or why referring to a man’s advances as “creepy” sets off all sorts of rationalizing among some people (“Maybe he’s just socially awkward!” “Maybe he has Asperger’s” “I bet she would have been fine with it if he looked like Tom Brady!”)
The inside the elevator video forced all of these people, who had been trying so hard to put themselves in Ray’s shoes, to ask themselves whether they could see themselves throwing that punch. And, as shitty as many people can be on domestic violence issues, most of them don’t really condone someone who is no physical danger just throwing a left hook to the jaw of a much smaller partner. So suddenly the speculation and the scenario-spinning screeched to a halt and almost everyone was forced to admit that, yeah, this was a barbaric act.
In addition, certain sports reporters (Peter King, Adam Shefter) passed along reports from “sources” that the league had seen the inside-the-elevator video and that it provided some mitigation that justified the league’s mild punishment of Rice. So suddenly people who were puzzled by the league’s decision but were trusting that the league had access to additional information that justified it, had their position cut out from under them.
So that’s why the video matters. For many people, it eliminated the doubt, the uncertainty, the gosh-who-knows-what-really-happened agnosticism and forced them to confront the cold hard facts that the rest of us were pretty confident in all along.