Recently a friend of mine asked me my thoughts on the whole Ray Rice media frenzy. A whole lot of things going on in my life have prevented me from writing much, on this page and in general, but the altercation between Rice and his now-wife, Janay Palmer, is as good a motivating topic as any. And by the way, this friend of mine has sent me a lot of questions that have turned into posts, so I encourage other people to send me questions and comments to keep me honest and keep me going.
I'll start by saying that I have not watched and have no desire to watch either of the videos of Ray Rice and his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer. Just as with the beheading videos that ISIL have been exhibiting for the world to see, I question the impulse that drives people to watch such troubling scenes. Our task should be to eradicate such behavior, not to instill it in our brains as a permanent memory. As I tell some of my math students that I tutor, we need to keep our eyes focused by keeping our work organized, because if our eyes can't be focused then our brain can't be focused; and likewise, where our eyes are focused will be where our brains are focused. So, too, will I say to everyone else: where our eyes are focused will be where our brains are focused. If we keep our eyes focused on scenes debilitating to society then we will be one step closer to contributing to the disaster. Of course, I don't mean that we should ignore Rice and other incidents, I only mean that I wonder about people who obsessively watch such horrifying videos.
What troubles me about the Rice/Palmer situation is what Janay Palmer has said: that she blames the media for destroying their lives and exaggerating the incident. What bothers me about this is that I can't control how other people think. If Palmer truly believes that what happened is not serious, not an offense, and not worth the national debate on domestic abuse, then I can't change her mind. No one can change her mind. Maybe a few more beatings might change her mind, but a) I don't wish that on anyone, and b) for many, the number of beatings won't change their commitment and love for the abuser. And Palmer and other women (and men!) who choose to stick with abusers, hope that the abuser will change, and continue to think that the abuse is not worth the attention will all defend the way they think by using some form of the "it's my private life, let me live it the way I want to" argument. On one hand, I firmly and passionately believe in individual freedoms and stand by the "it's my life" argument, but on the other hand, as I consistently argue about the ripple effect of repercussions stemming from viewing pornography, what we do in our private life, who we are in our private life will impact and cannot truly be separated from what we do and who we are in our public life--meaning that if we are an abuser in private, then we are an abuser and will in many subtle ways be contributing to a culture of abuse in public. And as long as there is a culture of abuse, then everyone is at risk.
I don't have much more to say on the subject. Domestic abuse, not just physical abuse, is a very serious issue that demands more attention. One good result from the Ray Rice scandal is that we are now talking about domestic abuse. If only now the NFL could also spark a national debate on human trafficking, which is closely linked to the NFL.
Do I think that the NFL has handled the situation very well? Do I think that the NFL has a "domestic abuse problem," as some have suggested? Look, I've commented before that we as humans are so sinful and broken, whichever term we feel more comfortable using, and have so many of our own problems, that we prefer to rise up in outrage over other people's perceived screw-ups rather than dealing with our own faults. Whether it's Joe Paterno or Roger Goodell, we like to condemn them for not being the angels that we also are not because when we do so, we can for a second feel more like an angel, more like a good person. That's sad. Could Paterno have done more? Sure. Could Goodell have done more and faster? Sure. But in my mind, why do we need a witch hunt? Why can't we instead reflect on the culture that breeds such behavior and the culture that then handcuffs leaders from doing more?
So whether the NFL has a disproportionate number of abusers, drug or domestic, and which group of people we can blame for that, is all really beside the point. WE are the people to blame. The culture of sports, which all of us are a part of in some way or another, is the problem. It's not the sponsors, it's not the money they're paid (that money comes from us, by the way), it's all about us: we are growing a culture, in sports especially but in other areas as well, that ignores the need to teach kids how to make being good a habit. When being good is not a habit for us then we will always have urges to lash out. Even you and me, we have urges to lash out against loved ones, friends and strangers. Many of us have the ability to squelch those urges and that's because we have gotten closer to make goodness a habit than others have. But who knows, you or I could one day fail to squelch that urge. The key, then, is to make goodness a habit to the point that we don't have the urge in the first place. Unfortunately we don't care about that: we care about teaching the kids how to be a good athlete, how to make a lot of money, how to find a girlfriend, etc. Our culture has lost track of what civilization is about, but then we complain when our uncivilized nature catches headlines. We are pitiful.
I do applaud Roger Goodell for being committed to turning around the policies of the NFL. I wonder if we, you and I, are even half-committed to eradicating domestic abuse. Many of us will probably continue on thinking, "If Mrs. Palmer wants to stay with Mr. Rice, then that's her choice. Whatever. No big deal. Now let me watch football."