Friday, September 12, 2014

Rise & Fall Of Ray Rice

What The Ray Rice Video Really Shows

On Monday, a video of Ray Rice, the Ravens running back, punching his then fiancĂ©e in the head and leaving her slumped on the floor of an elevator, was released on TMZ. It was greeted with shock. By the early afternoon, the Ravens tweeted that they were terminating Rice’s contract. That is an appropriate response, except for one thing: we’ve known for months that Rice had hit Janay Palmer and left her unconscious; there had been a video already, of him dragging her inert body out of the elevator in a hotel in Atlantic City. And yet, somehow, the video from inside the elevator was not what some purportedly well-informed observers expected. The N.F.L. had investigated the incident, after all, and only suspended Rice for two games; that didn’t fit with the pictures on the screen. But what did people think it looked like when a football player knocked out a much smaller woman? Like a fair fight?

They thought, apparently, that it was complicated; that a running back who evades the tackles of the Steelers’ defense had no option but to resort to force to defend himself when Palmer attacked him; that what he did was somehow her fault, or at least an understandable reaction to some unspecified, but presumably outrageous, female behavior. Stephen A. Smith, of ESPN, in a segment on the case, talked about how he advised women in his family not to “provoke wrong actions.” (He apologized, and was suspended for a week, a span that served to underscore how brief Rice’s suspension was.) There was speculation about a freak accident, of the sort that emergency-room nurses still hear when women show up with a boyfriend or husband and a lot of bruises. Also, he married her—didn’t that change things? Only, perhaps, her level of vulnerability; that will be especially true now. Back in May, the Ravens staged a press conference with Janay and Ray Rice, newlyweds at the time, the point of which was to deliver her absolution to the fans. One can’t say that she had made a bargain without recognizing the Ravens’ overwhelming role in brokering it. The same Twitter feed that, on Monday, announced that Rice had been cut had this to report back then: “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.” It took the new video for the team to delete that tweet, months later.

Did the Ravens have such different information back then? It was no secret that the new video existed. (Or, again, that Palmer had been assaulted.) Indeed, as Deadspin notes, various sports reporters were told that N.F.L. and Ravens officials had seen it; they relayed heavy hints that it would show all those mysterious complexities, and help to explain why Rice’s suspension was so light—though the choreography of Rice’s supposed limited responsibility is, again, hard to picture, absent an invisible Rube Goldberg machine in the elevator.

Now, with the video out, and with it no evidence of some attack that put Rice in a corner, those same football executives are coming forward in poses of wounded dismay: surely they weren’t the ones who spread the rumors about what it showed. “That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today,” an N.F.L. spokesman said. Roger Goodell, the commissioner, who recently released a new, stricter domestic-violence policy (accompanied by a message to owners that he “didn’t get it right” about Ray Rice), said that, because of the video, he was now suspending Rice indefinitely—suggesting that the scene was news to him. That backing away has been accompanied by a sense of betrayal in sports-writing circles: “I was told NFL had access to same evidence the police did when evaluating a 2-game suspension,” Jane McManus, of ESPN, tweeted. (The police response to the video raises its own questions: Rice was charged with third-degree assault but pleaded not guilty and avoided trial by entering a counselling program.) “If the N.F.L. had seen that video and suspended Ray Rice two games, it’s an embarrassment of the highest proportion,” Adam Schefter said on “SportsCenter.” “Someone Is Lying About Whether the NFL Saw the Ray Rice Tape” was the headline on Deadspin.

Or a lot of people are lying to themselves. An appalling thought is that plenty of supposedly responsible people did see that video tape, and saw in it only what they wanted to see—the willful rationalizations that sustain domestic violence. Here is what the video does show: Palmer and Rice in the hotel hall, arguing; she swats her arm at him and walks ahead into the elevator. He follows, stands close over her, and either says or does something that causes her to recoil. She tries to push him away from her and then walks toward him, saying or yelling something (the video is silent). Her face is open to him. Rice punches her with a hard left hook, spinning Palmer against the elevator wall and handrail as she drops. It is a couple of minutes before she regains even a woozy half-consciousness. Rice, who was by then talking to a security guard, doesn’t offer any gestures of comfort, let alone tenderness; if what he’s just done is surprising or unfamiliar to him, he doesn’t show it. He does, at one point, push her legs together with a shove of his foot. That is what it looks like when a man beats up a woman. — Amy Davidson | The New Yorker

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