Last week, celebrity news site TMZ released the horrifying and graphic video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then fiancé (now wife) Janay Palmer in the face and knocking her to the floor of an elevator. Before the video was released, there was minimal press surrounding the February 15 incident at an Atlantic City casino, and Ray Rice had received a meager punishment—a two-game suspension by the National Football League (NFL). However, the release of the video changed everything; no longer was there a question as to whether Rice abused Palmer. The video not only immediately impacted the football player’s career, it forced the NFL to toughen their policy on domestic violence and sparked conversations and social media campaigns about the complexity and prevalence of domestic abuse.
It is both infuriating and sickening to see a number of media sources focus on the “drama” of it all and offer inappropriate commentary like, “Why would Janay stay with Ray Rice?” and “The message is: take the stairs.” Instead, the focus needs to be on the complexity and difficulty of leaving one’s abuser, and on the severity and frequency of domestic violence.
In an effort to stand against domestic violence and show their outrage, several small businesses in Baltimore created “Ray Rice Jersey Exchanges.” Hersh’s Pizza and Drinks offered anyone who brought in their Rice jersey a free pizza and promised to donate $2.70 (Rice’s number was 27) to House of Ruth Maryland, one of the nation’s leading intimate partner violence centers. In exchange for Rice jerseys, No Idea Tavern also made $2.70 donations to House of Ruth Maryland and threw in a $10 bar tab.
I am a huge Baltimore Raven’s fan (you could say fanatic) and have always worn my Raven’s jersey with pride. Unfortunately, the only Raven’s jersey I own is, you guessed it, #27. In light of this event, not only will I no longer wear my jersey but I will participate in the Ray Rice Jersey Exchange by going to Hersh’s Pizza and Drinks this coming weekend. I am looking forward to participating in this campaign and am hopeful that other Raven’s fans will do the same. I want to be an active participant in spreading the message that intimate partner violence is never acceptable.
And it’s not just small businesses in Baltimore that are participating in campaigns and protesting the NFL’s handling of the entire situation. Prior to several scheduled Monday night NFL games, the activist group UltraViolet and the National Organization for Women (NOW) have paid to have #goodellmustgo banners fly over three stadiums. These advocacy groups are calling for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign because he has not only failed to take domestic violence seriously but has shown, in the words of NOW, his “unwillingness to effectively deal with the issue.” There are also questions as to whether Goodell knew about the elevator video prior to Rice’s two-game suspension in July. Already, more than 15,000 UltraViolet members have signed on to the petition calling for Goodell’s resignation.
The majority of professional athletes who are charged with domestic abuse receive little punishment. And so it’s not only important to change the policies surrounding domestic abuse—it is equally as important to educate professional athletes about what such abuse is and why it’s so harmful. To this end I was ecstatic to learn that House of Ruth Maryland has formed a three-year community partnership with the Baltimore Ravens and also launched its “Man Up!” campaign to help raise awareness. The Baltimore Ravens football franchise is donating $600,000 towards this campaign and pledges “to lead the effort throughout Maryland and encourage all citizens, businesses, and organizations to join in the initiative.” Now that’s something I can root for.