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April 24, 2024

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No Defending Rice

POSTED: September 12, 2014, 6:00 am

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The first video that came to light in the now infamous Ray Rice domestic violence incident had me shaking my head in disbelief. Seeing him casually drag his wife’s limp body out of an elevator made me think about my own daughter’s welfare and her vulnerability as a young woman. Not knowing at the time the exact circumstances that caused Rice’s wife to lose consciousness was a secondary consideration since domestic violence had been alleged. The tape that the gossip website TMZ released this week of Rice punching his wife and knocking her unconscious confirmed what I feared had occurred in that elevator. And for that reason I can offer no defense of Ray Rice.

Sadly, in the days since the Baltimore Ravens released the star running back from his contract there has been a visible defense of Rice by Black men on social media postings. It seems many of my brothers don’t understand that you can be a fan of football and not a fan of domestic violence. There is no excusing Ray Rice for his actions even though his wife seemingly is willing to do so. When we fail to see the wrong in his behavior, we are not only condoning it, we are sending a message to our girls that they have no value and can be abused at will. It is the type of message that they are bombarded with in movies and music videos, ‘reality’ TV and some aspects of hip-hop and rock music. We should be uplifting women and not picking them up from the floor unconscious.

Thousands of women are abused, brutally assaulted and killed every year in this nation and around the world. Sadly, the male perpetrators are often repeat offenders and these women receive little protection from our criminal justice system. Black women are particularly left vulnerable as they are discounted by society and marginalized within our own community. What angers me about the Rice episode is how many Black men appear to care more about the ‘fairness’ of his punishment than the welfare of his wife. At some point we have to be honest with ourselves about the absence of empathy and our callousness about the abuse and exploitation of women. These are our mothers, wives, daughters and sisters; and if we can’t see the wrong in their suffering it speaks volumes to our own inhumanity.

I have heard criticism of the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens for the ‘severity’ of Rice’s punishment. As to the NFL, the league has a lot of explaining to do and it starts with Commissioner Roger Goodell. The initial two-day suspension of Rice was insufficient and the new domestic violence policy Goodell announced reeked of self-preservation. It is not believable that someone in the NFL front office did not see the full elevator video weeks ago and now we learn that law enforcement claims it was indeed delivered to the league. Commissioner Goodell should resign. For their part, the Baltimore Ravens acted appropriately in terminating Rice’s contract. At some point life has to outweigh the considerations of a sport. While a career might have ended, lives might now be spared because of the enlightenment of victims and hopefully the awareness of perpetrators. If we make this about a football career it is simply further abuse.

Then there is the suggestion that Rice was treated differently because he is Black. If anything this is about celebrity and the status that comes with being a professional athlete. I don’t think a white athlete would have survived a videotaped episode of domestic abuse. And Rice almost survived until the damning video surfaced of the brutality he inflicted upon his wife. We should not make this about race. It’s about right and wrong. I profess that being keenly aware of institutional racism and the history of injustices inflicted upon Black men. I don’t consider this to fall into that category. If we apply a racial defense to Ray Rice we lose the moral high ground when there are indisputable incidences of racism in professional sports and beyond. Ray Rice had wealth and fame, and the access and privilege that those two conditions provide. What mattered most was his athletic ability and economic value to his franchise, and perhaps that is why the NFL levied such an inconsequential penalty in the first instance. His race cannot be used in his defense just as it should not be used to generalize about the behavior of Black men.

What I seek to do is call upon Black men to show their humaneness. Black women and white feminists should not be the only voices decrying domestic violence. The historical oppression and abuse of Black women is well documented. If we are concerned about piling on Ray Rice, we should be more concerned about dumping on our sisters. As for sister Janay, as a victim I applaud your resilience and choose not to question the wisdom of your decisions. I simply hope that healing is possible for you and your husband, and that this ‘nightmare’ can be used in a constructive way to uplift others.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

We should be uplifting women and not picking them up from the floor unconscious

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