September 19, 2014

THE MCEVOY MINUTE | How We Should Respond to the Ray Rice Incident

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By EMILY MCEVOY

On Saturday, Ray Rice and his wife, Janay Palmer, made their first public appearance since TMZ released a video last week that showed the star running back physically assaulting his then-fiancé. The couple attended Rice’s former high school’s football game, where the coach, Lou DiRienzo, reportedly welcomed Rice warmly, stating that he would always be a part of their football family. DiRienzo was apparently not alone in his supportive sentiment, as dozens of fans sported Rice’s #27 Ravens jersey, despite his release from the team last week.

This public display of support is disheartening and misguided – but unfortunately not altogether surprising. Rice is considered a star athlete in an industry that generates more than $9 billion in a four or five month time period, and helped lead his team to the Super Bowl in 2012. As a lucrative and successful athlete, Rice has received a relatively forgiving reaction not only from the NFL, but also from his fans nation wide.

More upsetting than the public’s apparent acceptance of Rice’s transgression, however, is the suggestion that Palmer played a role in provoking the abuse – an idea that has been put forth by ESPN’s Stephen Smith, among others. This notion implies that Rice’s actions were in some ways justified. Palmer, who can be seen pushing Rice in the chest in the leaked video, did not engage in the same level of violence as Rice, whose retaliating punch left her unconscious on the floor. While not advocating for assault of any kind, the actions taken by Palmer and by Rice are incomparable – especially considering the size and strength advantage that comes with being a professional football player.

Many have criticized Palmer for furthering this notion of blame by implying that the assault was taken out of context. While not discounting Palmer’s position on her own experience, it is important to remember that as a public figure’s wife, she must have felt intense pressure from her husband’s agency, the Ravens team, and perhaps even the entire NFL to discredit the evidence of what appeared to be physical assault. Many women who are victims of domestic violence are financially dependent on their abusers, making it virtually impossible to leave. Some have suggested that this might be the case for Palmer, who married Rice and gave birth to their child before she had graduated college, and does not appear to have her own source of income.

Domestic violence in the United States is quite widespread – 54 million Americans reported that they had been experienced such abuse in 2013 – but it is rarely discussed in the national media. Unfortunately, it is a topic that rarely makes conversations at all – 67% of women reported in an Avon study that they had never spoken about the issue with family or friends. This communal silence helps perpetuate the stigma that women in abusive relationships are somehow responsible for their situations – that they either “provoked” the attack, or did not do try hard enough to escape from the violence. Note, however, that 58% of respondents that had told someone about their situation reported receiving no help after reaching out for it.

It is clear then, that domestic violence is truly an issue that whole communities need to address together – starting with talking about it more openly and frequently. Rather than question why Palmer decided to stay with Rice, and more generally, why women in situations of domestic violence do not leave their partners, the public needs to begin to have more relevant discourses about why these women end up in situations of domestic violence in the first place.

Emily McEvoy is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at edm87@cornell.edu.