Earlier this year we woke up to view a pretty disturbing scene of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging an unconscious woman out of an elevator.
As the days followed and the story unfolded a narrative emerged that there was an alcohol induced argument that resulted in blows being traded by the couple in the elevator and ended with the scene we saw of Janay Palmer being dragged out of the elevator.
The NFL’s punishment of 2 games was oddly and uncharacteristically light considering the punishments for other offenses and the commissioner gave excuses about Ray’s previous record and the plea that Janay made to him personally when he met with the couple as reason for the light sentence. Later he admitted he was wrong and changed the policy about such offenses, but the incident seemed to be over.
This week we woke up to another video. The video that Rice’s people had been implying all along would give us pause in condemning him. Instead the video shows a sudden and graphically violent attack on Janay in that elevator. This changed everything and the NFL and the Ravens moved swiftly to end Ray Rice’s career (for now at least).
Why does the video matter? Should it? No, it shouldn’t matter, but it does for this reason: Until you see the violent and scary nature of the attack you fill in the blanks with your own ideas about what happened in that elevator. Given the choice of filling in those images with a man viciously launching into a physical beating of a woman almost the minute the doors are closed or assuming that there was an escalation possibly started by Janay (as she implied in her statements) that got out of control you choose whichever your personal experiences and emotions lead you. Neither of those scenarios is acceptable behavior for a man let alone a professional athlete, but if you are desperately looking for a way to make the horrifying event less evil you fill in the blanks in a way that makes you less uncomfortable.
I know that I did just that. I don’t admit to spending a lot of time thinking about it but in the back of my mind, without the second video, there was no way for me to make my mind go automatically to a man just launching a physical attack like that on his fiancé. The whole concept is so foreign to me that I was forced to assume even if subconsciously, that there was a prolonged physical altercation in the elevator that escalated into a terrible act. It never excused it for me. Absent a baseball bat, knife, or pistol in the hands of Janay in that elevator nothing really would excuse her ending up in a heap on the floor, but my mind was allowed to soften the incident by making up details about how the unthinkable could happen.
The video changes all that. The sight of Ray Rice starting the physical attack then quickly dispatching his opponent (victim) with a short left that bounced her off the wall is visceral. It leaves you sick and wondering about the humanity of someone who could do that. Further when you see his reaction it makes it worse. If I had somehow rendered my wife unconscious in an elevator, which I can’t really imagine how that might even happen, the elevator doors would have opened with me in a heap on the floor with her crying and trying to revive her and apologize for my crime, not me somewhat casually dragging her out into the lobby. That whole video is chilling from start to finish. It is personally frightening to me that is is remotely possible that the genetic makeup for that kind of violence is sleeping somewhere inside me. It is something I didn’t have to face in such a real way until I saw that video.
The video shouldn’t matter. The facts never changed. Ray Rice struck Janay Palmer in the face with his hand and rendered her unconscious and dragged her out of the elevator. That was known for months. Why is it different after watching the video? Because you can’t seek comfort in the vague nature of the actual act. You can’t allow your own lack of understanding for that kind of violence to give the actor (Rice) the benefit of the doubt. You can allow doubts to seep in and give Janay’s assertion that she shared blame for the incident root to grow even when that is absurd. It is like having Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy ripped away from you. Your world is a far darker place. The world of course hasn’t changed, only you have.