By Brenda Robinson
When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the penalty for Baltimore Raven Ray Rice’s domestic violence infraction against his wife, men and women were outraged. Separate from the legal punishment, the NFL was expected to render a penalty. And, the NFL did. Rice was suspended for two games and fined $530,000. Was that enough? And, for the record, the court’s sentence was not criticized. Rice pleaded not guilty to third-degree aggravated assault and avoided trial by accepting a pretrail intervention program.
Rice acknowledged he assaulted his wife, Janay Palmer, in February. At the time of the incident, the couple was unmarried. Reportedly, video cameras revealed Rice striking Palmer, rendering her unconscious, while in an Atlantic City casino elevator. Rice followed with dragging Palmer out of the elevator. Social and mainstream media generally viewed the attack as brutal and expected the NFL to “more seriously” deal with Rice. Stephen A. Smith’s asinine comment further ignited controversy. This ESPN commentator said “women should examine their role in provoking violence.” He apologized for his remarks. He was suspended for a week.
Domestic violence is a serious offense. However, until the early twentieth century, women were basically treated as property of men. Let’s examine the historical progression:
Reportedly, prior to the mid 1800s most legal systems accepted wife beating as a valid exercise of a husband’s authority over his wife. In 1850, Tennessee became the first state to outlaw wife beating. In 1920, wife beating was made illegal in the U.S. However, as with all forms of discrimination and unfairness, getting it right takes decades. In the 1950s and ’60s, women were treated harshly by men and some local courts and police departments, ignored or “turned their heads” to physical abuse of women. During the 1970s, the feminist movement began, that “you’ve come a long way, baby” era. The Civil Rights Movement was in post-era, and it was the right time for the women’s movement.
Upon the signing of three federal “Violence Against Women Acts” (VAWA), America got serious. These laws, in 1994, 2000 and 2005, were intended to end domestic violence against women and included more than wife beating. Domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking were addressed. Support for women included victim advocacy, prevention and counseling programs. Shelters for women became available with governmental, private, and foundation support.
Results were astounding. Reportedly, there was a 49 percent reduction in non-fatal violent victimizations, a 51 percent increase in reporting domestic violence, and an 18 percent increase in National Domestic Violence Hotline calls each year. These kinds of numbers revealed, with support, women would no longer be silent about abuse from men.
What is the bottom line? As with civil rights, women’s rights have been legislated. Yet, discrimination and unfairness is an on going battle. However, let’s not get it twisted with the Rice case. The NFL ruling against Rice is the NFL’s business. We cannot dictate how private industry should respond in such cases. Criticism would be better served by boycotting Baltimore Raven games. Criticism of the court’s response is a different matter. The public rightfully could expect a more harsh punishment. Government is expected to serve the people, which includes protecting Janay Palmer-Rice and other women. Regarding ESPN’s Commentator Smith. Even though Smith’s remarks were distasteful, he is also privy to freedom of speech. Smith’s company chose to reprimand him which is their right, not the public’s right to decide what punishment and how much. The public, may, and rightfully so, call for reprimands, but the best approach is don’t watch ESPN.
In fairness to Rice, he apologized and said this violence was “out of character.” Reportedly, If Palmer-Rice requested the court to go easy on Rice, seemingly, this couple’s desire is to continue their marriage. If Palmer-Rice has the slightest inkling that her husband will continue abusing, let’s hope she takes the advice of Denise Lasalle, blues artist: “Drop that zero and get with a hero.”