Ray Rice was not a household name in this country (except for fans of the Baltimore Ravens) until the story surfaced he had been fired from the organization for assaulting his then-girlfriend, now wife Janay.
Surveillance camera footage shows him punching the woman, knocking her out, and then dragging her from a casino elevator. The focus of much of the discussion seems to be on why Janay went ahead and married him anyway.
It would seem more logical to ask why Rice brutally and publicly attacked her. Did he assume (rightly so, as it turned out) he would get away with it? No man in his right mind would expect to strike a stranger in so brutal and public a manner without serving jail time. Yet Rice got off by taking an anger management program – not a rare occurrence with domestic assaults.
Courts both south of the border and in this country seem to operate under the assumption men who brutally attack strangers are criminals who need to be behind bars, whereas men who do the same thing to their girlfriends and wives are basically good guys who just need to learn how to control their temper.
Those who understand domestic violence know anger control is not the problem – these guys do not go around assaulting police officers, bankers, co-workers and random strangers, just their partner. Nor do they hit her when her large and protective brother is in the vicinity – they wait until no one is around to help her. Even Ray Rice waited until he and Janay were alone in an elevator. That would appear to demonstrate quite a lot of control.
It should be noted sports stars are not the only men who get away with assaulting their wives. Scarcely a week goes by without a story about a woman attacked or, all too often, murdered by her boyfriend or husband. This is especially true when the man is a high profile figure – the public loves its heroes, and loves even more to see them fall.
The classic example would be O. J. Simpson. The world followed every horrible detail of how the football and media star killed his estranged wife, a woman he had been abusing for years.
His fame and fortune bought him the best legal representation in the world, and he ended up with a controversial court decision of “not guilty.” In the court of public opinion, he was guilty as sin. His movie star good looks and magical abilities on the football field guaranteed a lot of people looked at the headlines, and the headlines destroyed him.?He was later successfully sued for causing the death of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. His career was in tatters and he was later convicted of and imprisoned for other crimes.
A lot of experts have tried to prove a connection between sports and domestic violence. Perhaps there is, or perhaps it is a simple matter of living in a culture that grants special privileges to the rich and famous. Being a sports star, even at the high school level, is the equivalent of having a “get out of jail free” card – especially when the crime is one about which our culture demonstrates a certain ambivalence, such as domestic assault.
A college boy who walks into court wearing a suit and tie, with the best lawyer in town at his side and a half-dozen local notables who are fans of his team ready to vouch for him, expects to get off on a domestic assault charge with a slap on the wrist, and often does. His cousin from the wrong side of the tracks who comes in wearing a hoodie and low-slung jeans, accompanied only by a court appointed lawyer, routinely goes to jail.
The good-looking sports hero card comes with a limit on the number of times it can be played, as Simpson discovered two decades ago and as Ray Rice is discovering now. High profile sports organizations require the players they sign to behave in a manner that reflects well on the team. Beating up on women and children does not. Courts may give sports stars the benefit of the doubt in such cases, but the public that buys season’s tickets is unforgiving. The NFL gets it. It is time our courts catch up.