Ray Rice, football, violence and why I can’t get the video out of my head.

I’m having a hard time getting the assault video of Janay Rice out of my head.

I don’t know if you have been following the story, but one of the best running backs in the National Football League (NFL) was caught on camera hitting his then fiancé (now wife) Janay in an elevator so hard that she was knocked unconscious. He then dragged her out of the elevator like a garbage bag. The video is damning, violent and incredibly upsetting to watch. He was charged with aggravated assault, and given counseling in lieu of a sentence. As his employers who have a player behavior policy, the NFL initially handed out a mere two game suspension. The whole thing appeared to be covered up by the league. His team went so far as to blame Janay as being culpable in her own vicious attack. It wasn’t until the video went viral that there was any real accountability about the attack. He has since been fired from his team The Baltimore Ravens, as well as being suspended indefinitely from the NFL (and subsequently the Canadian Football League as well). He has been ordered to treatment.

In a time when there are lots of violent scenes on television and in the paper I was trying to understand why this particular story has bothered me so much over the last few days.

Part of the issue is that I am a big time football fan. I grew up watching it with my Dad and brother and now I share the love with my husband and kids. My date nights regularly include Monday Night Football. I have a mad money slush fund for football tickets. I counted the days until the football season kicked off again. Part of me wonders if I am supporting something with my wallet that promotes this kind of behavior. The NFL condones a “hit them harder” culture. And they often turn away when they should be speaking up. Whether it’s leaving their players with mush-for-brains after years of concussions, or having a “boys will be boys” attitude about crimes off the field. I would be going on for awhile if I listed all of the recent convictions of current NFL players.
Part of it is that I’m frustrated that women are still being beaten up by their partners. Didn’t turning a blind eye from battered women change with Tina Turner? Is it because Janay Rice is a black woman?
According to the Violence Policy Centre “in 2011, the most recent year for which such data is available, black females were murdered by males at a rate of 2.61 per 100,000 in single victim/single offender incidents. For white women, the rate was 0.99 per 100,000. To understand these numbers, here are some important facts to keep in mind. First, the primary risk of violence does not come from strangers. Ninety-four percent of black women were murdered by someone they knew.”
The truth that our partners are the ones that hurt and murder us is true for women of all races.
Janay has chosen to speak out in support of her husband and his abuse of her. For women in relationships with men that cherish us, it’s almost unfathomable. I know lots of women who don’t feel that infidelity is the end of a relationship, but almost universally are united in the fact that a man only gets to hit her once in violence before she walks. However battered women often stay in relationships. Being trapped and too scared to leave is a real phenomenon and a reason to stay until you can find a way out. For some women its being so conditioned to accept the abuse that it feels normal. They have never experienced love that didn’t hurt.

But from a therapist point of view, women I see don’t understand what happens after we start sleeping with men, and the problems of jumping into bed too early in a relationship. I tell women that I can name on one hand the number of women that can be casual about the emotional connection they feel for a partner (male or female) when they start sleeping with them. As women, we are meant to pair bond. Men chase us because they are far more interested before we have sex with them. It’s the newness factor. For women it’s after we get naked. Once we have sex with a new partner, our brains pump out loads of oxytocin. That means we start to get attached and fast. If we haven’t done our due diligence and the new partner is a violent abuser our brains don’t know that fact and we still fall in love. And when we love someone we stay despite the bruises.

I think Janay Rice loves her husband. I feel badly for her that she has to be re-victimized by seeing the assault over and over again. I also wonder how well her husband will be able to cope and learn from this now when his ability to earn a living doing the only thing he knows how to do is taken away from him throughout North America.
But mostly I just feel sad because as I write this there is a woman being beaten up by someone they love.