I am a proud Baltimore native and have been a Ravens fan since the football team moved here in 1996. I am also a pastor and an advocate against domestic violence and rape culture. The behavior of running back Ray Rice, who was accused of knocking out his then fiancee (now wife) during an altercation in Atlantic City, has embarrassed me enough to question being a Ravens fan. The pathetic punishment from the NFL — a two game suspension — has made me question my continued support for the league. I would expect the latter from a morally bankrupt organization. What I did not expect is for the Ravens to publicly treat Ray Rice as if he is a victim who needs to be lifted up by his fan base.
While every sports organization talks about giving back to the community, the Ravens have a strong history of actually doing so. They are miles ahead of the Orioles in community relations. Their initiative in promoting the Affordable Care Act, an act that helps so many in the Baltimore metro area receive health care, was an incredible gesture, even though they were paid $130,000 to do it. I have always gotten the sense that the Ravens truly care about the city that they play in.
But in highlighting online the sympathy fans showed Ray Rice, who pleaded not guilty to assault charges, and featuring a May video of Mr. Rice’s wife expressing regret for her “role” in the incident, the Ravens are ignoring the issue — domestic violence — and making a victim out of the perpetrator. Rice is not a victim. I get that he comes across as a genuinely good person to those who meet him. And I am glad he is taking every opportunity to receive counseling for his behavior and that he finally accepted responsibility for it Thursday, apologizing to his wife and daughter and all who have suffered domestic violence. “It has no place in society, in this world, especially man on women,” Mr. Rice told reporters. “I have to own my actions and I have to live with them for the rest of my life.” He said the altercation was a “one-time incident” that will haunt him. But he appears to have put himself in the situation.
Some men feel entitled to treat a woman as they see fit and believe that women bring physical and mental abuse onto themselves. This is a larger societal issue that gets dismissed in the public sphere, as we saw recently with the sexist comments ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith made in relation to the Rice case, claiming that it was important to address the “elements of provocation” to prevent a recurrence. It is a dangerous, blame-the-victim school of thought, and it only leads to more incidents like this one.
The Ravens decided not to cut Mr. Rice and, much like every other professional sports team, seem to feel that they need to put a halo on every player so people will buy tickets. But with the spotlight on them, the Ravens also have an opportunity to change the conversation. Instead of putting up pictures of Ray Rice walking off the field to applause, why not post some articles on the dangers of domestic violence? Instead of Kevin Byrne, who oversees the Ravens public- and community-relations, writing a column about his respect for Ray Rice, why not encourage a woman who works for the organization to post her thoughts on the incident? Why not allow a willing abuse survivor to share her story on domestic violence?
There’s no way the Ravens can undo what has been done, but they could at least be trying to make something better of a bad situation. Placing the focus solely on football and not the human aspect of what has happened is acting like there is not a problem. On top of this, the question must be asked as to how the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL view their female fans. As writer Jane Coaston pointed out in a piece for SBNation.com: The NFL does not traditionally take a hard line stance on these sorts of things. She notes that Daryl Washington of the Arizona Cardinals was suspended for a year not for abusing a woman but for drugs. And San Francisco 49ers player Ahmad Brooks wasn’t suspended at all after being accused of punching a woman in 2008.
There is only one victim in this situation, and her name is Janay Rice. To treat her husband as if he deserves glowing public support is tacitly contributing to the problem. This is bigger than football, and if the Ravens don’t realize that, I have to question my support.
Jacob Simpson is the pastor at Salem Lutheran Church in Baltimore. His email is email@example.com.