Why would she marry him?
It's the natural question that arises after watching the video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging the unconscious body of Jenay Rice from the elevator where he knocked her out. Then his fiancée -- the video was taken in mid-February before their wedding later that month -- on Friday she stood by him as his wife for a stomach-flipping press conference. The disgust starts with the monstrous obliviousness of Ray Rice's stating, "Failure is not getting knocked down, but not getting up," and ends with Jenay Rice sharing the blame for his unconscionable crime. That so many wonder how this situation could end with Rice easily avoiding jail time and marrying the woman he battered betrays the willful ignorance of a society that enables him.
Violence is how abusers keep their victims from escaping. Wondering why Jenay Rice would stay requires a focused ignorance of a world in which roughly one third of murders against women are committed by an intimate partner. In this world, the threat of death, expressed or implied, can keep anyone captive.
Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL have seemingly normalized domestic violence as a learning experience for the abuser. Apparently, the crime isn't the crime itself, but failing to offer a mawkish homily on how the crime made you a better person. The future of domestic violence in sports is here now.
For contrast, take the case of Gurbaksh Chahal. The founder and former CEO of RadiumOne, a tech advertising company, was recently fired by his board of directors after being charged with 47 -- yes, 47 -- counts of domestic violence. Chahal plea bargained down to misdemeanor charges after a video of him hitting his then-girlfriend 117 times over a half-hour period was ruled inadmissible. Prosecutors, however, blamed the victim's "lack of cooperation" for the plea bargain that will leave Chahal with a clean record after three years probation.
In our legal system, a prosecutor's ideal domestic violence victim is one who has not yet removed the knife from her back and is willing to talk about it in detail. Still, Chahal lost his job. The male-dominated, money-mad tech industry couldn't resist the public and media scrutiny of offering a documented abuser safe harbor.
The Ravens, meanwhile, are not just keeping their abuser, they're standing by him on national television. Following Friday's press conference, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that sources who have seen the full video say Rice struck his wife twice before she fell headfirst onto a railing. For this, Rice must complete a pre-trial diversion program and serve whatever suspension the NFL hands down. He will definitely keep his job. This outcome is common among athletes in domestic violence cases and other crimes, but the tightly controlled narrative disseminated by Rice and the Ravens offers a disturbing peek into a worsening future.
As long as sport has existed, the deification of its stars has inoculated them from real world consequences. More than 100 years ago, Stanley Ketchel was a superstar boxer and drinker with a fondness for misogyny and racism. No one cared because none of that was a big deal back then. It's different now: Stanley Ketchel would have to show up for a press conference and take a few months off. That is the measure of progress in how sports deals with its own past and present of domestic violence.
A woman has publicly sided with her abuser before, but the collusion between athlete and team to impose a feel-good narrative of personal redemption on the public sends a horrifying message. In the U.S. alone, 22 percent of women experience intimate partner violence and account for 85 percent of all domestic violence victims. However, only one quarter of all intimate partner assaults are reported to the police. The rates are worse for women of color. Consider this, then think about the message sent when a reported assault ends with the victim on television sharing the blame. The message is clear: Reporting intimate partner violence is pointless.
We will never know the true nature of Ray and Jenay Rice's relationship, but no competent therapist would suggest a victim of violence take the blame, never mind doing so in front of millions. The Ravens aided their employee in committing violence against Jenay Rice again, as well as other victims of intimate partner violence. The message sent was no one cares about those victims.
The devil of it is this -- I'm not sure NFL fans care. Past uproar didn't keep this from happening and future uproar may not be loud enough to keep it from continuing. This much is clear, though: The NFL offered a glimpse into its ideal future, where domestic violence is the start of a Disney movie.