In this May 1, 2014, file photo, Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice holds hands with his wife, Janay Palmer, as they arrive at Atlantic County Criminal Courthouse in Mays Landing, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans, File)
On the first week of September, I wrote a sports column about domestic violence, triggered by the NFL case of Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice and his wife Janay. At the time, we had all witnessed the first video of Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of a New Jersey casino elevator after an argument and scuffle between them in February. By the second week of September, we were overwhelmed with a second video of what went on before and during the elevator ride, and everything changed… for the worse.
Based on Ray Rice’s summer meetings with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Baltimore Ravens team and staff, and his agreements made with law officials—which included Janay’s admission of participating in their spousal incident—Rice was prepared to serve only a two-game suspension, while involved in domestic violence counseling with his wife. But after the second video footage was released on every television network imaginable, Rice was quickly terminated from the team, forced to serve an indefinite suspension from the NFL, and labeled a monster who should never be allowed to play football again, all while the national media presented his wife Janay as the new face of domestic violence.
Months later, the initial heat of the case has cooled—albeit with serious ramifications and penalties for any and all other athletes in any sport, who are charged with domestic violence. Meanwhile, Ray Rice recently appealed his indefinite suspension from the league, claiming that he was charged twice for the same offense. The league agreed with him and reinstated Rice immediately, allowing him to play NFL football again for any team with tough enough skin to sign him.
Since her husband’s reinstatement to the league, Janay Rice has come forward with several major network interviews, including ESPN and the Today show on NBC, reinforcing her consistent statements that she and her husband have never engaged in the kind of physical disputes that would properly categorize her as a “victim” of domestic violence. Janay went so far as to have her mother, Candy Palmer, join her on interviews to clarify any and all assumptions about a family history with domestic abuse and violence.
Palmer said that it was the hardest thing she’s ever had to go through in her life to see her daughter publicly victimized on national television. “Everyone was talking about her, making statements, and they know nothing about her,” she said.
Janay refused to even look at the second video, because she did not want the obvious shock and embarrassment of being caught on camera to change who she is and what she stands for. From the beginning, she admitted from the beginning that she and Ray had been very intoxicated on the evening of their quarrel in New Jersey, which led to both of them acting out of character, and that the reality of being caught on camera made the altercation impossible for them to explain. “So of course people are going to read into everything and pick at everything about the situation,” Janay said.
I agree with Janay and her mother wholeheartedly after reading and hearing plenty of assumptions being made about them and their family. Janay was supposedly “in denial” and “in need of help” to get away from “that abusive monster” before “he beats her again” and possibly “kills her the next time.” Domestic violence research included extensive information about family upbringings and a history of violent behavior and victimization being passed down through generations. Therefore, Janay’s mother felt it was imperative to speak up on her own behalf and for the reputation of her husband, Joe, who has been a reported father figure to Ray Rice since his high-school days in Northern New Jersey, where the embattled football star first met his daughter Janay more than a decade ago. In other words, the Rice and Palmer families know each other well enough to know how to handle their own disputes.
I can’t speak for the rest of America, but the more the media played that second video inside the elevator, the more I thought about Janay, the history of Black women, and of Black America as a whole. Why would anyone want to see herself in such an embarrassing and compromised circumstance, repeatedly, while millions of people, who have never known you and cared about you or your family, now want you to become the face and voice of their issue? How presumptuous and disrespectful of thousands of Americans to automatically believe or to assume that Janay would want or should be a part of the national conversation on domestic violence, merely because she happened to be married to a popular football player and they were unceremoniously caught on camera.
Let’s be perfectly clear: domestic violence is wrong and the issue needs a recognizable spokesperson, or that the issue does not need a popular spokesperson. But I can’t help but wonder if mainstream America would have allowed the face of a White woman and of her family to be so repetitively aired and tarnished in the cause of domestic-violence prevention. All of a sudden America cares that much about the plight of the Black woman? Or do they simply see her as some type of sacrificial pawn?
Janay’s merits respect for her determination to control her own life, her dignity, and her family story by not allowing herself to become a puppet for anyone else’s agenda, unless she and her family agree to be a part of the ongoing dialogue.
Call me naïve, but I believed Janay from day one. She is not a “victim,” simply a woman who got caught up in the unpredictability of real life in a new, all access era of social media gone wild. Since the video went viral, she and her family now must to live with the hypocrisy of everyone else picking through her family’s clean and dirty laundry, whether Janay likes it or not.
Omar Tyree is a New York Times bestselling author, an NAACP Image Award winner for Outstanding Fiction, and a professional journalist, who has published 27 books, including co-authoring Mayor For Life; The Incredible Story of Marion Barry Jr. View more of his career and work @ www.OmarTyree.com