The NFL's Problem Is Larger Than Ray Rice. And It's Larger Than the NFL.

american football near the...
american football near the...

Now that Ray Rice has been belatedly suspended and cut from the National Football League, the greatest danger would be for us to contentedly move on. We would miss an opportunity to ask ourselves hard questions, starting with, why did it take the release of raw video footage for the NFL to take action? And the answer is, of course, an uncomfortable one. Though this week is the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act's signing, our society clearly has more progress to make.

We live in a country where one in three women have experienced partner violence, one in five women have been raped and almost one in two have experienced some kind of sexual violence, yet only a minuscule number of arrests and convictions correspond to those astounding statistics. The crime is happening. Justice and safety are not.

So we had to be confronted with the horror of the Rice video. Some would say it was the proof we needed, but we already knew the essential fact -- he hit her in the face and she had been knocked unconscious. It seems that our moral compass needed the visceral reaction of actually seeing domestic violence. If this is the case, we have to improve our ability to morally reason and empathize with others. It is not acceptable that we have to be shown something that we knew occurred in order to be moved. We can never protect each other if this is the (most times impossible) standard for action.

What is ultimately revealed is that we don't trust abuse victims. We do not listen to women fully, or are not inclined to believe them. This dynamic serves to silence many who make the sad calculation that reporting their abuse will ultimately not bring about the outcome they would want.

How else do we explain an institution like the NFL being so focused on Rice's career that they did not grapple with what it is like to be abused? Thus, we must keep pushing the NFL to improve. Perhaps because there was not video to horrify us, this past Sunday, Ray McDonald suited up for the 49ers a week after being accused of felony domestic assault on a pregnant woman, and Greg Hardy played for the Panthers though he was found guilty of assaulting and threatening to kill a woman during this offseason.

These situations must be addressed with the seriousness you would expected from an institution when its members are involved in situations such as:

A disturbing aspect of the Rice case, as well as many of these others, is how we had only heard positive things about these young men before these incidents. We are then left to consider how we must better educate all men in the unacceptable nature of all kinds of violence against women. And "we" means, parents, peers, religious groups, schools and institutions like the NFL. A problem this big requires everyone's effort.

We say that "we have to teach our sons not to hit women," but haven't we always said that and we are still left with these results? This message is important, but we need to be more specific. We must teach our boys and men:

  • There are no excuses or circumstances that justify violence against women;
  • How to resolve conflicts and manage deep-seeded anger non-violently, which is reflective of maturity;
  • That we must always speak out against this kind of treatment of women (even in the jokes we make);
  • To listen to victims.
It is long past time for the NFL to admit that it has a problem that requires proactive solutions. Harsher suspensions and immediate firings that send an unmistakable message are necessary, but we need more. In a world with widespread violence against women, this problem is everyone's. It shouldn't take actually seeing grainy elevator footage for us to advance all the solutions we possibly can.