Behind closed doors. Even elevator doors. That's where domestic violence usually occurs. We are disturbed by its aftermath -- the bruising, black eyes, broken bones -- but not enough to take real action as a team, a league, or even a nation.
This week, after TMZ released the video of Baltimore Ravens' Ray Rice punching his then fiancé now wife Janay Palmer in the head and knocking her unconscious, the Ravens immediately released Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. It was the right consequence but a knee-jerk reaction. Did the Ravens, the NFL or even the general public need to see the most recent video to know what happened inside the elevator to take action? Apparently. Wasn't it enough to see Ray Rice dump the unconscious Janay Palmer like a bag of garbage outside of the elevator, and then kick at her feet so the doors could close, and then render no assistance (or call for help) to know what happened inside the elevator? I guess not. But for the millions of Americans, myself included, who have witnessed domestic violence firsthand, the second video was not needed for us to know what happened behind those closed doors or to be outraged by the original slap on the wrist for Ray Rice.
Forty years ago, I grew up in a home where domestic violence and child abuse took place on the level of torture -- at a time when there were no hotlines or shelters or laws in place to protect my mother from my father's wrath. At 12 years old, I went to my city's police department and disrobed in a roomful of male police officers. I was covered in bruises, welts and burns. They were shocked and horrified. Yet I was sent home that day with these words: "It's a private family matter." Why? Because the police needed to catch him in the act to make an arrest or take action against my father. Did such constraints influence the Ravens' and the NFL's response this week? Maybe.
Thankfully, with legislation, protective services and even abuse prevention campaigns, much has changed over the last four decades. We should acknowledge that the movement to end violence against women and domestic violence was championed and led by women. The news this week brings a reminder that it's time for men, all men, to be a part of the solution. This horrific event, caught on camera, of violence against a woman gives men an extraordinary opportunity to further the conversation about what it means to be a real man; in particular, it's time to talk about the role male athletes play at every level of sports. In male culture, many men and young boys look at male athletes as the true definition of masculinity and success. We desperately need more real men to stand up and lead on the field, in the locker rooms, and in their communities -- as champions in the movement to end all forms of violence, especially in ending violence against women.
The response to the second Ray Rice assault video from many current and former professional athletes -- the more visible as well as the lesser known -- gives me hope. As a former football player at the college and professional levels (Florida State Seminoles and the Miami Dolphins), I know the culture firsthand. The public assumes that we play a violent game and we lack the social or moral components to shut down the violence off the field. Nothing could be further from the truth. The overwhelming percentage of professional athletes, including football players, are good men, husbands and fathers; many of them giving their free time to charitable causes. The media has a propensity to cover the "bad boys." After all, much as we try, it's hard to resist watching the train wrecks. But here's the problem: the majority of those male athletes who are outstanding role models for our young boys and young men are not standing up and raising their voices when it comes to ending violent and disrespectful behavior towards women. Many times, they'll rally around a Ray Rice and even say that it's "a private family matter," or a private team issue.
It's not. It is, in fact, a public matter.
Domestic violence impacts the entire community. One in three women in the United States will be a victim of a violent crime in their lifetime. Those women are your mothers, daughters, sisters, girlfriends and wives. This week we commemorated the 20 year anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act. I urge all citizens to contact your legislators and make sure that they support the Act and that they vote to fund the vitally important services covered by VAWA. It's also time that the NFL and all of our sports programs implement policies that are applied consistently for players who commit acts of violence. Most of all, I want to urge us to continue the conversation about what we as men can and should do to play our part in creating safer relationships, homes and communities.
It's simple. How we treat women in our society is a measure of our collective character. Stand up and raise your voices to end violence against all women, rich and poor, black or white, straight or gay. Be a "real" man.