|AP Photo, Patrick Semansky|
But, without a large audience to worry about offending or entertaining, there is a certain freedom to say some things just how I really mean them, and so I've decided it will go for the topic of Ray Rice. There was no way I could retire this thing without saying something about him, you (however few of you there are) knew that right? And that's because the issue intersects with all that I am: a woman, a football fan and an opinionated s.o.b.
But to say this can be just about Ray Rice is a fallacy at this point because the story is so much larger, particularly in light of the Adrian Peterson indictment. This is a story about domestic violence in the NFL, which by its very nature is a violent sport.
First, as a Steelers fan, I have to address the black and gold elephant in the room: Ben Roethlisberger. I am happy that he's my quarterback. Truly, I have to admit that I am. I think he's turned his life around to the point where I don't worry about how he represents the Steelers brand now off the field, only how he does that on the field. He's married to a local girl, they have two kids and he's been a pillar of the community for a few years now. I've joined in on his causes a lot since our interests in police dogs intersect. In a football crazed town like this one, the large female fan base seems to think that's enough and this past Thursday I saw Tweets and Facebook posts all day long from women sporting his jersey. The one that bothered me was the elementary school age girl getting ready to go off to school in her pink Roethlisberger jersey. I still have mine, I admit it. It's the one thing with his name on it I kept. But I'm not ready to forgive him to the point where I join all those other female fans. I won't sport his number. I haven't worn it since the second story broke (I still don't believe the woman who sued him - another whole blog post someone else will have to write). I'm waiting for the day when he's finally ready to come out and say something along the lines of, "You know, I was a brute to women and treated them like objects. I wouldn't want my daughter to run into a guy like me, and I am truly sorry." That day, I'll dust that jersey off and proudly put it back on. But he did his suspension, he's cleaned up his act, and I don't have any trouble cheering for him on Sundays. If that makes me a hypocrite, then so be it.
But I'm waiting for the question about domestic violence and NFL players as a whole to be the focus instead of Ray Rice himself. It's beginning to happen. The Los Angeles Times ran an Op-Ed piece today about the NFL and domestic violence. It's damning because it talks about incidents other than Ray Rice that the NFL was apparently aware of and did nothing about. Ray Rice, let's face it, is in the hot water he's in because he was stupid enough to be caught on camera. And he's now exposed not only himself, but the whole of the NFL. The commissioner's office has made such a thing about protecting the brand over the decades that they forgot about protecting the women and the children and how maybe that's a higher calling. Sweeping what wasn't national news under the carpet ultimately did nothing but build up the dirt pile that now will almost certainly come pouring out.
Now, here's the thing to keep in mind as you try to decide if you're going to watch on Sunday or boycott the games (I myself am not watching football, but that's only because I'm going to the Pirates game): domestic abuse among NFL players is no more prevalent than in the general population. Maybe that's the thing that should give us all pause actually. So let's not give up the game we love. Let's just use this horrid mess for some good and force the NFL to use the power of that brand to educate abusers and victims both. I've always been impressed with the work they've done to promote breast cancer awareness. Now they need to throw some resources at this issue. And they need, in my opinion, to have zero tolerance for abusers under their employ. And not just the knee jerk reaction that they are currently having to try and stem the tide of public opinion, but let's continue to keep the pressure on them to make this a long-term focus. But all of this is easy for me to say and harder to do, I know, because this will be an issue with many shades of grey. But my fear is at some point, as this whole Ray Rice thing dies down, all the other women who aren't and never will be as famous as Janay Rice will be forgotten.
At the end of the day, I don't know what will happen to Ray Rice. Nor can I predict what will become of Roger Goodell. I do believe he blew this call in every way imaginable - the elevator video make me physically ill, but seriously, did any of us really doubt what had happened inside that elevator before TMZ exposed it? What I do want to know is what will become of the conversation that has opened up about domestic violence. I do want to know what we can do as a society to help victims. If this is the mess that it takes to shine a light on the topic, then maybe there is some good to be had from it. In the meantime, I love the game too much. I will not be giving it up.