As parents, we spend a great deal of time teaching our children the right ways to treat others. Much of those conversations involve statements about how we don't push, kick, bite, or hit others because it is not nice and because it hurts people physically and emotionally. I know this because the wife and I are in the midst of full-on toddlerhood with our son right now, and these are constant conversations we are having with him.
Our son, like a lot of toddlers, doesn't do well with having items taken away or being told "no" when he wants something, and sometimes his frustrations result in hitting one or both of us. Our response to such outbursts (currently) is to express our disappointment with his choice, then to walk away to another room. We try very hard not to scold him, but instead explain that he made a very bad choice, and that there are consequences to negative choices. Because life is all about choices.
During one of my moments of sitting in silence after an outburst this weekend, I was struck by an overwhelming thought: We spend so much time teaching our children that hitting other people is wrong, and how there is absolutely no excuse to hurt anyone. Yet, as I watched/read the news this past week, I found it dominated by a story of domestic violence and an overwhelming amount of justification for why it happened. So at what point exactly does all our teaching of nonviolence and care for others go by the wayside? When exactly is it that we, as parents, tell our kids that society has taken all that we taught about being kind to others, about there being no excuse to hurt anyone, about taking accountability for our actions, and thrown it right out the window? How do we explain that, if you have a certain status in life, society will overlook the harm you've caused to others?
Of course, I'm alluding to the story of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's violent assault of his then-fiancée (now wife) in an Atlantic City hotel elevator back in February of this year. Rice is seen on video dragging his fiancée out of the elevator after (allegedly) striking her so hard in the face that it rendered her unconscious. While the public has not seen any video of the actual assault, Rice accepted a plea bargain in order to avoid trial of probation and anger management, yet he still entered a plea of not guilty. As egregious as his assault was, the NFL was right there to one-up Rice.
The NFL finally weighed in on the matter this past Thursday, and they handed down a suspension, as most fans expected. However, what was not expected was the length of the suspension: two games. That's right, two whole games. Ray Rice was given a shorter suspension than linebacker Daryl Washington (Arizona Cardinals) and wide receiver Josh Gordon (Cleveland Browns) who have both been suspended for the entire 2014 season for multiple marijuana violations. So let me get this straight, partaking in marijuana use is somehow (by NFL math/rational) eight times worse than violently assaulting, not just a woman, but your fiancée? Well, that message should really give a boost to that female fan base.
It's already been said in a ton of articles, as well as on TV, but the NFL missed a major opportunity to send a strong message when it came to a growing demographic of their fan base. Look, I'm disgusted with the NFL, and not just because of the way they handled this situation, because this is par for the course for them, because I am no longer shocked by the NFL's inability to care about anyone or anything outside of their business. Because that is what they are -- a business, and it's all about dollars to them.
What I AM in complete shock about and, frankly, appalled over is the overwhelming amount of victim-blaming that has come out over the past four days. It's literally rivaling the amount of coverage from those calling for a harsher penalty.
The consensus line that is being used is, "We don't know what happened in that elevator, but she shouldn't have provoked him." What?!? Are you kidding me with that kind of comment?
How did this line of thinking ever come to be, and furthermore, why are people giving it credence? News flash, people: IT'S NEVER THE VICTIM'S FAULT; THAT'S WHY THEY'RE THE VICTIM!
How the hell do we, as a society, switch rationales so quickly, from telling our children, "don't hit, it's not nice," to "well, maybe they shouldn't have provoked the person into hitting them"?
I grew up in a fairly abusive household. And not in the ways some might instantly assume. I wasn't physically abused by an angry father, but instead by an angry single mother who routinely hit home (literally) that I had brought all of the abuse on myself.
Because of this, I have taught and will continue to teach my son (and any other children who may come along) that hurting others in never the right answer.
But it really saddens me, and frankly drives me a little mad, to see that there is a subset of our culture (especially in the media) who is actively working against me and other parents who are trying hard to instill non-violent values to our children.
Not even a day after the lackluster penalty for Ray Rice's action was announced by the NFL, we already had our first case of foot-in-mouth disease by one such TV talking head.
ESPN analyst (and I use that term lightly) Stephen A. Smith, who is known for his brash and frequently over-the-top opinions, voiced his opinion on the topic and created a massive fire storm of backlash.
Smith literally lost any credibility he meant to gain within the first sentence of his diatribe when he said, "It's not about him; it's about you," then went on to chastise victims (mainly women) by saying they need to do more to avoid provoking their attackers. WRONG!!
Smith issued an apology several days later on his early morning show, attempting to clarify his bonehead statement by saying that in no way was he suggesting that women provoke violence. But in reality, that's exactly what he did. ESPN even put him on camera with a female anchor who accepted his apology (as if she speaks for all women in the world) and had her deflect from Smith by aggressively shaming the NFL and calling for an apology on behalf of all women.
What's worse, it's not just men who are spreading these kinds of foolish and very dangerous ideas. Women are too.
Back in May of this year, the whole world was abuzz when video was leaked to the media of an altercation between Jay-Z and Solange Knowles in an elevator at the Met Gala.
Seriously, what is with people and elevators? Maybe take the stairs next time.
In the video, Solange is seen aggressively attacking Jay-Z, kicking and punching him, all while security attempts to restrain her and Beyonce stands by and watches. You know what you didn't see -- Jay-Z hitting Solange back. In fact, he defended himself by putting his hands up and attempting to deflect her attacks (take notes, Ray Rice).
As part of the media circus that followed this incident, the ladies of The View weighed in. One in particular, host Whoopi Goldberg, was adamant in her statement that Jay-Z had the right to hit Solange back, saying, "Where I'm from, if you hit anybody, they have the right to hit you back. If a woman hits a man, he has the right to hit her back. That's why I don't hit men."
Allow me to counter using words similar to Whoopi's: No one has the RIGHT to hit anyone, and if someone does hit you, you do NOT have the RIGHT to hit them back. I don't care if you're a man or a woman.
Now, I'm no historian, and I was a pretty awful student, but the last time I checked, knocking someone out (male or female) was not in the Bill of Rights, or the Bible, or the Koran, or the Torah, or any other place outlining basic human rights.
Now I realize that this is easier said than done, and if I was in a situation where I or a loved one was being attacked, there is a very good chance I'm going to strike back. But you know what the difference is? I would never say my striking back was my RIGHT; rather, it was my CHOICE. Ray Rice made a CHOICE to physically assault his now wife, and thus cemented his status as a D-Bag. Jay-Z made a CHOICE to not to hit Solange back, thus showing a high level of decency.
Victims are victims because someone else made a choice to hurt them; it was not their right. Life, is all about CHOICES, remember?
Enough is enough. It's is hard just to raise a child in today's society. Raising boys and girls to be well-adjusted, stand-up men and women is even harder.
Topics like physical abuse, rape, and an overall shaming of women that seems to still be alive and well in our society, are going to be heart-wrenchingly difficult to explain to my son when the time comes someday. As a man trying to raise another man, I refuse to continue or cultivate a culture of, "Well, she was asking for it" or "Well, she shouldn't have provoked me."
I will instead raise my son to make the CHOICE to be a good man.