Commentary: Stop Making Excuses for Domestic Violence

Commentary: Stop Making Excuses for Domestic Violence

The Baltimore Ravens made the right call in terminating running back Ray Rice's contract with the team on Monday.

Published September 9, 2014

The Baltimore Ravens made the right call in terminating Ray Rice's contract with the team on Monday.

The Ravens' decision came hours after TMZ released a shocking video from the Atlantic City elevator where Rice knocked out his then-fiancée Janay Palmer in February. If it hadn't been for that video, Rice would be well on his way to redemption and preparing to rejoin the squad next week after his slap-on-the-wrist two-game suspension handed out by league commissioner Roger Goodell. 

The Ravens claim they never saw the elevator video until Monday, but they, and the league, did see the previously released video of Rice dragging his fiancée out of the elevator. What on earth did they think had happened? Anyone who had conducted any semblance of an investigation would have known the elevator had an interior video camera. So why did it take a celebrity gossip site to uncover evidence that should have been known by law enforcement, the NFL and the Ravens organization? 

Everyone involved in this investigation, from the prosecutor, to the league, to the Ravens management have some explaining to do. But so, too, do many of those who stood by Rice and defended him even when the evidence against him was overwhelming.

Of the many arguments I've heard defending Rice in recent weeks, nearly all of them minimize the significance of domestic violence. 

Some argue that Rice's fiancée provoked him. This is reportedly what Rice told the NFL as well. The elevator video makes it clear there was no physical provocation to justify Rice's actions. But even if there had been, that's no excuse for a 206-pound professional athlete to punch a defenseless woman. 

This argument reminds me of the rumors about Rihanna when she was beaten in an altercation with Chris Brown. After the photos of her bruised face were released, I heard a lot of people blaming her for her beating. "Well you know how those Bajan women are," several people told me. "She probably started it." Once again, even if she had "provoked" her attacker, that's no excuse for the beating she received. It's blaming the victim.

Nor does it matter that Rice's fiancée stood by her man and blamed herself after the elevator incident became public. Remember, back in May, the Ravens released a statement on Twitter that seemed to blame the victim again. "Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident," the Ravens announced. Deeply regrets what? Putting her face in front of Rice's fist? She did nothing to deserve the knockout punch she received. Yet I heard a similar argument about Rihanna years ago that her beating couldn't have been that bad if she was willing to get back together with her attacker. 

Some apparently see Rice as a victim of a larger campaign against African-American men. He's a strong Black man. He only made one little mistake. We have enough Black men in jail or without jobs already! Sadly, this "strong Black man" defense reminds me of the initial response some had to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when law professor Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment in 1991. During the hearings, I remember one Black woman even told me, "I wish that woman would stop lying on that man." 

Apparently, the worst thing a Black woman can do, in the eyes of some in the community, is to bring down a Black man. But these nationalistic pro-Black responses are filled with misogyny and internalized sexism. Ray Rice punched a Black woman. And Clarence Thomas was accused of harassing a Black woman. How are we promoting the greater cause of the African-American community by minimizing the offense of Black men who mistreat Black women?

Admittedly, I have a strong personal reaction to the Ray Rice case. I've seen women in my family suffer from domestic violence, and I know the pain this has caused them. Once I was even in a relationship where my partner implied that violence was acceptable in dating, especially among men. Needless to say, I didn't agree, and when he hit me six months later, I packed my bags and bolted the same day.  

Not everyone in an abusive or violent relationship has the freedom to get up and leave, and we shouldn't blame those who stay in unhealthy relationships longer than they should. I wish the best for Ray Rice and his family, but this story is bigger than them. It's about the message we send as a society about violence in any relationship.

I believe in second chances. Perhaps Ray Rice has learned his lesson. Maybe he's changed. But football players do not hold ordinary jobs. Professional athletes not only represent themselves, they represent their teams, their cities and the league for which they play. Playing in the NFL is not a right. It's a privilege. And Ray Rice has forfeited that privilege.  

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Written by Keith Boykin

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