There have been roughly 12 trillion hot-takes on the Ray Rice situation so I am reticent to add another, but after weeks of seeing people miss the point, I just couldn't help myself. Here goes nothing...
The opinions on this debacle seem to fall under one of three umbrellas:
1. Roger Goodell is a piece of trash/egomaniac/money grubbing pig capitalist.
2. You're better off hitting women than smoking weed.
3. Ray Rice should be jailed.
While I'd have a hard time disputing any of the above with a straight face, I will say that those three things aren't really on my radar as it relates to this issue. What I'm concentrating on is how much of blame for all of this falls on society itself.
Earlier today on Twitter I compared domestic violence (DV) to racism. What I meant by the statement is that most intelligent people realize it is a terrible thing, yet for some reason it is still incredibly prevalent. While the days of the 1940's, where you could strike your wife in public then turn around and call a black person a nigger are part of a (thankfully) bygone era, we still have seething remnants poisoning society, especially among the poorly educated. What's left is what I call, "casual racism," or, in this case of DV, "ambivalence."
Here is how I know there is a prevailing ambivalence towards DV: The commissioner of the NFL suspended a player for two games for knocking his partner unconscious.
A common theory is Goodell only cares about money. But when you think about that critically for more than half a second, you realize how idiotic of a notion it is.
My question: How does having Ray Rice in football games add to the NFL's bottom line in any significant way?
Even if it did, if Goodell didn't think NFL fans were ambivalent towards DV, he never would have handed down such a short suspension. In the end, if he really is concerned only with dollars, the path he took cost him the most possible off the bottom line and if he didn't see that coming, he is much less intelligent than even his harshest critics could imagine.
There are only two real explanations for his decision:
1. He thought NFL fans wouldn't really care the suspension was short.
2. He, himself, is ambivalent towards DV, causing the assumption others would be as well.
Both of these options prove my point.
Let's talk about drug suspensions for a moment. They are long, seemingly out of whack with even the new DV penalties imposed by the NFL in a poorly orchestrated effort to save face. But in terms of the societal view of drugs, it falls perfectly in line.
Look at the drug laws in this country. Look at how we treat alcohol versus less damaging, but illegal drugs. Think about how Charlie Sheen is a coke head but nobody remembers Kobe Bryant cheated on his wife then paid the person he slept with not to talk about it in a trial for God knows what reason. Explain to me how, "Ray Lewis is a murderer" comes up constantly on my Twitter feed but, "Ben Roetlisberger is a rapist" doesn't. (Neither man was convicted of those crimes, but many, perhaps even most, people assume their guilt.)
There is absolutely no doubt our society views smoking weed or doing a bump of coke as categorically worse than hitting a woman, cheating on your wife, or even sexual assault. We may act outraged, but the penalties, laws, prosecution rates, and myriad other factors are proof society feels this way.
The NFL is simply acting in accordance with societal convention. They suspend Josh Gordon a year because society has decided weed is terrible. They suspend Ray Rice two games because society dictates DV isn't that big of a deal. Roger Goodell may be money hungry, but in this case, he is just an ignorant fool who wasn't able to step outside of a situation to really understand the impact of his decision.
I'm certainly not excusing Goodell for his actions, as his inability to realize his opportunity to help change the way people think about DV is reprehensible. I'm clearly not excusing Rice for hitting a woman. And I'm in no way letting the legal system off the hook for their failure to hand down a legitimate penalty. I am simply explaining the reason all of this happened is that society allowed it to.
How do we fix this?
Instead of screaming about Rice and Goodell as individuals, maybe be outraged about all the other DV cases that go unreported or unprosecuted. Why don't women report abuse more often? Why do so many back out of testimony? Why did Ray Rice's victim end up his wife?
Before these women were victims of assault, they were victims of society. Just as casual racism is incredibly contagious to our youth, any number of things contribute to a huge percentage of women who don't have the feeling of empowerment required to escape or stand up for themselves. Basically, the same thing that has caused an immense wage gap between the sexes also causes ambivalence towards DV. Having a very public case where the sports hero skates with the law, at his job, and with his victim certainly isn't going to help.
The solution isn't easy, but I think it is relatively simple, if painful. We need time to allow society to change. When you have this many people, nothing happens overnight. We need societal leaders not just speaking out against DV, but taking visible action in the form of tougher laws, or in this instance, longer suspensions (life, for example).
As much as I'd like it to be the case, you can't flip a switch and make change happen, but you can react to things like the Ray Rice situation the right way, and every little bit helps.