Discussing domestic violence a decade ago, when it was off the grid, would have been morally courageous. But, alas, very few were either moral or courageous, and the world was slow to bend towards fairness and truth. Violence against women by professional athletes was a problem rather than an issue; problems are solved out of sight, behind closed doors. Issues explode.
Like it or not, agree with its equity or not, the domestic violence prism is here to stay, attached to the NFL culture. It is the lens through which every NFL player is now magnified and judged and where organizations are scrutinized, belittled and thought to be a wreck. No longer is it an absurd premise to demand the NFL’s accountability on matters of intimate partner violence.
Chaotic encounters that end in pain, arrests, police reports, litigation, attorneys, media scrutiny and media judgment, are not the fault of the NFL. The NFL didn’t create intergenerational cycles of abuse. They didn’t pattern violent social behaviors nor did they raise the abusers. They just employ them.
No one is naive here. We have all been in fights with people we love and they can go south in a hurry without going violent. It is the violence that causes the retreat, that makes those in power hesitate.
In 1993, the United Nations ratified the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. That it has taken 22 years for the NFL to enter the contemporary world only illuminates the complicity in keeping the secret.
Things are not getting back to normal; normal does not exist anymore. The complexities of a post-Ray Rice millieu circles the marrow of this very fragile bone. Ray Rice’s criminal act ripped the skin off of domestic violence and exposed the wound. The wound is still bleeding. The wound is still sore. The wound is still prone to infection.
It’s been fifteen months since a brutal scene made its way around the world, a man hitting the woman he loved in the face. It has been fourteen months since Ray Rice was indicted by a grand jury. It’s been ten months since the NFL suspended Rice two games and it’s been eight months since the NFL had to backtrack from a position of male privilege and entitlement and shaming of women. It’s been five months since the NFL owners ratified a new domestic policy with punishments so jokingly absurd that a player accused of domestic violence is put on paid leave.
When he was a San Francisco 49er, Ray McDonald was accused of domestic violence but was never charged nor punished by the 49ers until he was also accused of sexual assault, a case still open.
On Monday, McDonald was arrested for domestic violence and immediately cut by his new team, the Chicago Bears. In signing McDonald 64 days ago, the Bears went to great lengths to explain their exhaustive research. Defensively, they said they did not interview anyone associated with the alleged victim because said parties would be biased against McDonald. That particular nugget of ignorance was recited by George McCaskey, Chicago Bears owner, who is a member of the NFL’s code of conduct committee.
The trap the Bears fell into was confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the search for a narrative that fits the hypothesis you want to believe instead of the search for the evidence that frees the truth. At its core, it is the mining of selective information, absent of intellectual reasoning, for the purpose of convenience, to give you what you really want.
In the case of Ray McDonald, the Chicago Bears social police tied their own hands. They were invested in the vignette of McDonald as an innocent and McDonald as a wronged man and McDonald as sacrifice.
This is old. This is new. This is the NFL. Male innocence is accepted and/or hoped for. Victim abuse is diminished and or expunged. It brings us back to Ray Rice who began this entire ugly saga because he punched his fiancée in an elevator and there was a camera. In a cruel irony, or some would say, a fair denouement, Rice and his quest for employment might be damaged by the very example he set last year that he can never really escape from. It is a carousel. One man does one thing. Another man does a similar thing. All roads led back to Ray Rice.
The NFL believes in its own rhetoric: domestic violence can be defined by a singular policy. But to accept that particular narrative is to disregard the cruel cost of violence. There are human beings out here in the world, women who have been vilified and maltreated, women with children living in fear, women with lives damaged by men who are paid by the NFL.
And so what we are left with after all this time is what we started with last February. Ray Rice as a human being and Ray Rice as an abuser. A year later, it is Ray McDonald as a human being and Ray McDonald as an alleged abuser.
There is nothing complex about this particular place in NFL history, about Ray Rice and Ray McDonald, about privilege and entitlement and commerce impacting how the NFL continues to get the details wrong. It is the tradition of the sport to mercifully cling to the past and hang on for dear life.
written by Valerie Morales