BY APARNA BHATTACHARYYA*
There is general disbelief and shock that Ray Rice did not go to jail for his attack on his then fiancée, now wife. Here is a reality check. This is what normally happens with first time domestic violence offenders if they do not have a previous charge. They are often sent to a batterer’s intervention program and the case is dismissed upon completion of the course. If violence occurs in that time period, the courts can go back and charge the batterer with the original charge. In the rest of the non-athlete world, batterers do not normally lose their jobs for being violent with their partners. Yes, it is outrageous. But, if we know someone who has a problem why would we cut them loose and not help them get the help and accountability they need?
Domestic Violence is a learned behavior that needs layers of accountability. The NFL’s response to Ray Rice’s behavior shows that the value is in the ratings and not in the people. We can toss you aside instead of investing in making you a better human being. I am reminded about how many workplaces deal with alcoholism or drug abuse. If someone has an alcohol or drug problem, their job is protected even while they are getting help.
I am not saying that we need to protect all batterers. Rather, we need stronger systems of accountability that would help reduce domestic violence in our communities. The reality is that immigrants and communities of color are not comfortable utilizing the criminal justice system to address domestic violence due to many reasons including, systemic racism and potential deportation. What if faith institutions (churches, mosques, temples, and gudwaras) and schools talked about these issues and made sure they created accountability for batterers and safety for their partners? Wouldn’t it be great if boosters in universities would invest in counseling and interpersonal coaching for the athletes instead of merely enticing them with fancy cars, trips, and parties? The NFL’s handling of this situation is a reflection of our values. We are more concerned with football rankings than people.
Are we still holding Charlie Sheen accountable for his violence? He is back on television making tons of money. Chris Brown, whose violence had to be even more horrendous based on the injuries that Rhianna had, is still making his music and lots of money. And as a community we still are supporting these individuals in making their millions. I am not advocating that we take away people’s livelihood. The money they make is important to supporting their children and spouses. I have concerns about how violence can escalate when a batterer loses their job. Will they take it out on their partner? Could it be more dangerous and lethal for their partner? With many sports and other celebrities, so much of how they see themselves is based on their brand and identity. When that is taken away, will they become more violent?
In my opinion, the NFL was not really taking a stand on Domestic Violence. If they were, the NFL would have been deliberate about their actions to ensure that Janay Rice was safe; instead, they seemed to have been more concerned by the publicity generated by Ray Rice.
The NFL invests in therapists who will make sure that their players can play to win; they spend money on trainers, and all the other things to make sure the players are towing the line for the right image. Can we focus not on image but on what it takes to really support people in becoming better human beings?
*The author is the Executive Director of Raksha, a Georgia based non-profit that has been serving South Asian survivors of domestic and sexual violence since 1995.