When the Mighty Fall: Our Family’s Conversation about Ray Rice
We are a Ravens family, my husband is from Baltimore and has always been a Ravens guy, our older two caught football fever and love the Ravens (younger one, not so much, he’s a soccer kid, “American football” doesn’t hold much interest for him). While I’ll sit down and watch a game now and again I fell in love with them because of their Softies, my personal favorite is Torrey Smith who is not only active with the Show Your Soft Side campaign (tough guys speaking out against animal cruelty) but also with BARCS, Baltimore Animal Rescue Care and Shelter; not only have he and his wife adopted a pitbull from them but when they married they asked people to donate to BARCS in lieu of giving them wedding gifts. Good people.
So the news of Ray Rice hitting his then fiancee, now wife, came as a shock to us, especially since we’ve always seen him as a stand up guy (as you can see in my blog that I linked to up there). I’m not going to blog about what we thought of the initial punishment for his abuse, that’s not the point of this, so let’s fast forward to yesterday when the Ravens announced that they were cutting Rice and the NFL indefinitely suspended him from the league. Again, I’m not going to blog about what I personally think of this punishment, what I want to focus on is the conversation we had with our kids about Rice because, for our family, it was an important one.
Shortly after Eric messaged me that Rice had been cut I came across a screen shot in my facebook newsfeed of Janay Rice face down on the floor of an elevator after Rice had hit her, her shoes were askew and her dress looked to be up around her backside. My reaction, right or wrong, was not “how could he have done that?” because I already knew what he had done, my reaction was “what the hell is wrong with the American media?” Janay Rice had already been victimized once, now she was being victimized again by the media. Folks can sugar coat it all they want, claim that it’s important for people to see the violence, but if that was you would you want it plastered all over the place? The best article I’ve read about this second victimization is a blog in The Nation called “The Revictimizing of Janay Rice,” please read it, it’s short and it has been updated to include Janay Rice’s statement about the video being released and about Ray Rice being cut.
Eric and I talked about how we were going to address this with our kids, in part because they like Rice and in part because we saw this as an opportunity to talk about some bigger issues–domestic abuse, consequences, and how the media is handling this (because they are going to see those screen shots too). Their initial reaction was “WHAT?” Not because they thought Rice was innocent but because they didn’t understand why the Ravens and the NFL had swung so hard in the opposite direction from where they had started. But we wanted them to understand that, regardless of how the NFL has handled this, Rice being cut was ultimately on him–he punched his now wife, he did something nobody should ever do, there are consequences to that and they are life changing.
And part of their confusion is because the NFL is rife with abusers. Now, so I don’t get flamed, I am not saying Rice shouldn’t be punished because there are so many other abusers in the league, I’m saying the fact that there are (and our kids know this) and that this one, this particular one, has been cut is confusing to our children. It’s hard to explain to your kids why one of their players was tossed when players like the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, accused of rape and sexual assault more than once, is still playing. Or when Greg Hardy, who plays for the Panthers, was found guilty of domestic assault. So the question of “Why Ray? Why not them?” that our kids asked is a fair one and, in my opinion, points to a league that takes money a lot more seriously than it takes conduct. Duh, we all knew this. But, damn, NFL, you’ve taken this step with one player what about the others? They have changed their policy about how domestic abuse will be dealt with, it now will earn players a six game ban for the first offense and a lifetime ban for the second. That’s progress, if it actually happens, but we still have all these men who are abusers who will walk on to football fields this week, and hypocrisy is a tough thing to explain to a kid. Ultimately, we fell back on “he did something awful, he’s paying the price” but that doesn’t wash away the inconsistency. So, there’s that.
There’s also the larger plague of domestic abuse and this was something we really wanted our kids to understand–this one famous couple is in the spotlight but there are so many others, every minute of every damn day. It’s important, we think, to teach kids that things like this don’t happen in a vacuum, they are part of a larger problem. The fact that NFL does not take violence against women seriously is a symptom of the greater disease, the disease being, of course, that the US does not take violence against women seriously. I watched Liam’s eyes grow large when I told him that every day women are beaten by their partners and that, often, those beatings ultimately result in murder. He didn’t know, now he does, and I hope it helps him put this whole event into some context. And I hope it gives him an empathy for Janay Rice, who I think gets lost in all of this.
Eric and I told Liam that we didn’t want him watching the video, out of respect for Janay Rice. When Liam asked why it would be disrespectful of her to watch it my question to him was “would you want strangers watching a video where you were abused and humiliated?” He hadn’t thought of it like that and he responded with a resounding “no.” Good, neither would I, neither does she. And the fact that people still are is voyeurism at its nastiest.
Ultimately, our kids are kids and we can only expect so much of them. I don’t expect them to turn against Rice, or disavow any loyalty towards him, or say that they don’t want to watch him play anymore–it’s not that simple. Liam stood in our doorway and said “I can’t believe I’m never going to see him play football again,” that reaction went hand in hand with our daughter’s “what? why?” when Eric said stores were pulling Rice’s jersey. Black and white this situation ain’t and as bad as what Rice did is he’s still someone who has given our kids joy and reasons to cheer, I don’t think my personally verbally flogging him to our children serves any purpose. They don’t need a diatribe about how horrible what he did was, they know it was horrible, and the one thing Eric and I won’t do is tell them that they shouldn’t feel the way they feel.
One thing I am thankful for is that Eric and I have been very careful about teaching our children that elite athletes (or any famous person), while fun to watch and often admirable human beings, should not be placed on pedestals or viewed as heroes and the kids take this to heart. There are exceptions to this rule, people who broke boundaries and fought for equality, like Jackie Robinson and Kathrine Switzer, but they are rare. So at least we have no broken hearts in our little family, just disappointed kids trying to wrap their heads around some very big things.