Can Ray Rice Be the Poster Boy for Redemption Instead of Rage?

Once again, a young black man is the symbol of a societal dysfunction. Can we flip the script?

Okay, now that every media outlet, blogger and commentator has piled on to Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back, can we all take a deep, deep breath for a minute and consider some other sides of this troubling case?

The facts as we know them are this: After a night of heavy drinking, the star running back got into a verbal and physical altercation with his then-fiancé, now wife, Janay Palmer Rice. He sat down with his bosses and powers-that-be at the NFL and told his side of the story. The NFL knew exactly what happened; either through direct viewing of the whole videotape or by extrapolating from the portion that was initially released showing Rice dragging the unconscious Janay from an elevator. Rice and his team and the NFL came to an agreement about the punishment and consequences: Rice would be suspended for two games and he and Janay were to go through some kind of anger-management/marital counseling. Some were dismayed that he had only merited a two-game suspension, but things had moved on.

Next thing we know, a fuller version of the elevator surveillance video is disseminated by the gossip site TMZ, and all @#!% breaks out.

Yes, it was disturbing to watch a young, muscular man essentially knock out a much smaller, weaker woman with one punch. But really, what was in that full-length tape that we did not already know?

And now, once again, a young black man has been held up as the poster boy for some form of societal dysfunction. His name is even used as the hook for the website of the national Domestic Violence Hotline in a headline which asks “Have you been affected by the recent news concerning Ray Rice and the NFL?”

It recently came to light that Rice has attributed his (and Janay’s) bad behavior to a night of heavy drinking, and has said that they have since renounced hard liquor and have turned back to their faith. Their church, and no doubt many other people, are standing by, praying for them and counseling them.

The problem I have with the whole scenario is this: One’s word is one’s bond. If Rice, the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens had come to an agreement as to his punishment, and Rice was compliant, it is very “unsportsmanlike” for the league and owners to renege on the understood agreement. It’s as if someone served their jail time based on eye-witness testimony, and only later, after a videotape is discovered with visual evidence of the same crime, the person is sent back to jail to serve even more time.

The result of the latest iterations in the case, in addition to shaming the Rice family and, as Janay wrote, making their lives a nightmare, is that the interruption of his livelihood will no doubt have a very ill effect on the family’s future. Whether one is making millions in the NFL or doing the 9-5  grind, we all depend on, and value, our livelihoods. They not only allow us to pay our bills, but many times our work is tied up in of our self-respect and self-definition. Losing our livelihood can create almost unbearable stress.

However, the most important part of this story, to me, is the strident moralizing in the face of a contrite perpetrator, whose victim has apparently forgiven him.

Since Rice has apologized to all concerned, taken his punishment, renounced the things that contributed to his and his wife’s behavior (alcohol), and returned to and recommitted to his church, why must we, as a society, be less forgiving than God Himself?

Don’t get me wrong. Violence against women or any other person is completely unacceptable. It is a serious national problem, affecting 1.6 million women annually and costing the nation $5.8 billion in aftercare, including more than $4 billion in medical costs. I am fully in support of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and have worn purple to signify it.

However, Christians believe that God will receive us upon repentance (turning away from) our sin “as if it never happened.” Our culture celebrates and condones all types of behavior once frowned upon (MTV Music Awards, anyone?) but becomes strangely moralizing when addressing a select subset of sins.

When someone repents of his behavior and pledges to improve, and is forgiven by those whom he has hurt, why can’t we extend grace to that person?

Had Ray Rice violated his agreement and been violent to his wife or someone else again, then sure, bring it on. Fire him from his team; suspend him permanently from the NFL, whatever.

But it serves neither his family, his team, his fans nor anybody else, when he is punished again for a crime he had already been punished for and expressed regret for.

Can’t we allow Ray Rice to be a poster boy for redemption instead?

Hope Ferguson
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  • Becca

    I completely agree with you here: The NFL’s punishment shouldn’t have changed once the video was leaked. They probably should have been stricter to begin with. That’s extremely frustrating. Partner abuse is both horribly immoral and a crime. Also, it’s frustrating that this is yet another young black man in the media for criminal behavior. (Which, while race normally crosses my mind in media situations, for whatever odd reason “football player” is a more salient social construct in my mind than “young black man” and I didn’t think about the race side of this until now. So thanks for pointing that out.) I’m horrified by the violence but I’m also so frustrated by the NFL’s ignoring the violence, the fact that the NFL turns a blind eye to the fact that brain injuries are very possibly making its athletes more violent, and the fact that Americans keep watching.

    Where I’m more nervous to agree: Domestic violence operates cyclically (which, if you’ve worn purple for Domestic Violence Awareness, you probably know). After the abuse then there is a “honeymoon period” with repentance. And then the tension builds again. So I’m not okay with moving this story to Ray Rice’s redemption just yet. I think redemption in domestic violence, especially for the abuser, should mainly be a narrative that can be told in the long term. Sure, God hopefully is and certainly can be working in anyones heart as we speak. But domestic violence happens too cyclically for early celebration of Ray Rice’s redemption on a public level. It’s far too likely that there is still abuse going on. We can pray that it isn’t. But I’m not sure we should celebrate the fact that there is no abuse when, statistically, that’s a fact we can’t assume to be true. We can give Ray Rice his privacy. We can let him heal. We can give him the benefit of the doubt. But I’m not okay with making him the poster boy of redemption. Not yet. Especially since there is pressure from many sides for Janay to keep quiet about any continuing abuse, a redemption narrative would only further enforce silence.

    But yeah, you’re right that the way the NFL has handled this is awful and ridiculous and clearly out of concern for its reputation rather than because it cares about domestic violence.