There are times when I understand the ways things work in our society, and times I don’t. Yesterday was one of those days when I don’t. Let me spell out the situation that unfolded.
Last February, one of the NFL stars (Ray Rice) was vacationing with his then-fiancé. He has since married her. The two got into a scuffle in an elevator, and Ray Rice struck his then-fiancé and knocked her out. Video was made available over the summer that showed the player dragging his unconscious fiancé (at the time) off the elevator.
The star apologized for his actions and both he and his now-wife were quoted in the media talking about what had happened. The NFL suspended the player for 2 games: a punishment that was rightfully seen as too lenient by most individuals including myself. The response to the lenient punishment was that the NFL instituted a policy whereby a player would be suspended for 6 games after a first offense for domestic violence, and for a minimum of 1 year after a second. Those revisions were met with broad-based support. That was how the story played out: until last weekend.
Yesterday, a media entity known as TMZ made available the tape that showed what had happened on the elevator. This video had not been made available before. I’m not a fan of violence – so I did not watch the video. I’ve been told the video shows Rice punching his fiancé in the face, knocking her off her feet and into a rail where she went unconscious, before he finally dragged her out of the elevator.
Let me make one thing absolutely clear: Ray Rice’s behavior was INDEFENSIBLE. Period.
The team Mr. Rice played for (the Baltimore Ravens) terminated his contract and the league banned him indefinitely. Both of those responses were clearly called for.
Here’s where I got lost in the unfolding developments.
In the hours that followed the release of the tape, I would have hoped the primary focus would have been on the horrific actions of the offender. I also would have hoped people would have focused on the tragedy of domestic violence and the actions we as a society need to take in order to stop it. Those are the primary things we should have been talking about in the early stages of the story.
The media went in another direction. It focused the bulk of its energy on whether or not the NFL had seen the second tape when it rendered its initial 2-game suspension.
Now please don’t get me wrong. I – like most people – want to make sure the NFL takes the problem of domestic violence seriously and addresses it in appropriate ways. But to focus on that particular angle meant that in the first hours after the release of the video meant that we were not talking very much about the perpetrator himself and the immediate actions that need to be taken to stop the violence in homes across the country. Instead, the bulk of the initial energy expended was on the “he said/he said” aspect of the story: about who knew what when. I fear we will miss an opportunity to do meaningful work around domestic violence as a result.
I have one more concern as well. Few of those who want to focus their primary energy on the actions of the NFL, will ask themselves an important follow up question. “Why might the NFL be slower than they should in investigating tragic incidents?”
There are many reasons for the slowness in their response: one of which is the individual fan’s response. Imagine, just for a moment, that the NFL responded to trouble in the home of Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, Denver’s Payton Manning, or Houston’s JJ Watt by immediately suspending them for an extended period of time. The fans would throw a fit and threaten to boycott the league because the suspension of a key player might cost them a game in the standings or a division title. Ugg!!!!
Many fans – including myself! – need to take a look in the mirror and see how our rabid team loyalty might contribute to dynamics that make things worse when it comes to addressing the difficult issues that need to be addressed. Once we have addressed our own personal issues, then we can move forward and do the important systemic work that needs to be done as well.
I would encourage each of us to pay attention to our own responses to problems as they emerge in our world. How do we approach them? Is our first response simply to lash out and blame others for what has happened; or do we step back and see what role we might have played in the dynamic before we then start doing the vital work of addressing systemic issues.
See you next time!