In response to a question about a newly released video from February showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice violently knocking out his fiancée in an elevator, The White House on Monday strongly condemned violence against women and urged men to band together to stop it. The comments came shortly after the Ravens announced that Rice's contract had been terminated.
“This administration and this president do believe strongly that the scourge of violence against women is something that needs to be aggressively combated,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “I don’t want to comment on the individual decisions made, in this case, by an individual football team. But you have seen the president and the vice president make very forceful public comments in talking about how important it is for men in particular to step up and step forward and make clear that violence against women is something that is not and cannot be tolerated.”
Earnest said he was unaware if President Barack Obama has actually seen the video, but added that as an avid sports fan, he had followed the controversy.
TMZ published the video early Monday morning, reigniting a controversy that had simmered for several months. Initially, Rice was suspended for just the first two games of the season, a punishment that was viewed as incredibly lenient, especially in light of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon's yearlong suspension for smoking pot.
The NFL instituted harsher penalties for players accused of sexual assault after criticism over Rice's punishment. But privately, sources with the league rationalized the leniency by telling reporters that fuller video of the confrontation would show that Janay Palmer, then Rice’s fiancée and now his wife, had provoked his reaction. The Ravens went so far as to tweet out Palmer's regrets for her role in the matter.
Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) May 23, 2014
When the video emerged, those claims proved hollow. Rice was barely provoked inside the elevator. And his blow is vicious -- he knocks Palmer off balance and she falls to her side, her head hitting the elevator railing.
NFL officials said Monday before Rice's contract was terminated that they had not seen the elevator video -- a claim that contradicted earlier reports.
The sports world pounced after the video's release, with commentators and even other NFL players calling on the Ravens to issue a harsher penalty or fire Rice altogether. The political world wasn’t too far behind. Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) sent letters to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome calling for a harsher punishment and asking the NFL to implement procedures to better address instances of domestic violence.
UPDATE: 9 p.m. -- Later Monday evening, after a discussion with the president, White House press secretary Josh Earnest offered an on-the-record comment on the Rice tape and the running back's firing.
The President is the father of two daughters. And like any American, he believes that domestic violence is contemptible and unacceptable in a civilized society. Hitting a woman is not something a real man does, and that’s true whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye, or, far too often, behind closed doors. Stopping domestic violence is something that’s bigger than football –- and all of us have a responsibility to put a stop to it.