I never watch sports. I never read about sports. I would be hard-pressed to name the major sports teams in the city where I have lived for the past 14 years. Despite all this, I know that:
1) this week
2) Ray Rice
3) who plays football
4) for the Ravens
5) was suspended for two games
6) for knocking unconscious his then-girlfriend/fiancee/now-wife
7) in a hotel elevator.
That’s an awful lot for me to know. Ubiquitous information, even for the non-sportsing among us.
You know what detail of this story I DON’T remember offhand? What is her name, this woman whose limp body keeps being dragged across our tv screens? Because I’d swear her name seems to be “his girlfriend” or “his fiancee,” or perhaps “his wife.”
Her name is Janay Palmer.
I’m angry that I had to look that up. Angry that I didn’t know it already, and angry (for her) that I felt I needed to know it.
Of all the discussions about domestic violence and American sports I’ve read in the wake of this incident, I am most grateful for Kate Harding’s centering of concern for Ms. Palmer and her on-going safety and health:
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Janay Palmer, over the last few days. I hope very much that the wife of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has reason to sincerely believe her husband has changed since he knocked her out and dragged her limp body out of an elevator last February. I hope that when she spoke with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on June 16, and told him the beating was a ‘one-time event,’ she was being honest—and that she will never be proven wrong.
I hope that when she apologized for her own role in the incident, it was because she felt genuinely sorry for doing something we didn’t bear witness to—something just as unforgivable as beating a person much smaller than you unconscious. (That still wouldn’t excuse her then-fiancé’s behavior, but it would help me understand her sense that she owed her husband and the public an apology.)
And I hope that when she decided to marry Rice even after he stood over her limp body, looking inconvenienced by her failure to remain conscious, it’s because she had a 100-percent-accurate crystal ball that predicted a future full of nothing but love and gentle respect from this man.
I would like to believe all of these things are true, because then I wouldn’t have to worry about Janay Palmer.”
I’m 100-percent-with Kate on this. I don’t want to worry about Janay Palmer, or other women living with violent men. (I could also say: with men for whom violence is a socially-approved condition of their profession, entertainment, or sense of masculinity. That’s a whole lotta men.) I sincerely hope that I never come across Janay Palmer’s name–or image–again in the future. Because I hope it may mean she is safe and well, and not just that Rice has become more alert to the presence of security cameras. Because I don’t want her to become another addition to our already-horrifying (particularly for African-American women) IPV statistics.
Harding goes on to discuss [really, I encourage you to read the whole thing] the controversy over Stephen A. Smith’s comments on ESPN, in which he counseled women to “do your part” to prevent abuse by not “provoking” their abusers. As if IPV were some disembodied thing that two people create between them, and for which neither one is individually and completely responsible. In Harding’s words, Smith’s mansplaining boils down to this little nugget of self-congratulatory uselessness:
“Telling victims of domestic abuse to consider how they can prevent further violence is as ludicrously redundant as telling a tightrope walker he should think about how to prevent falling. ‘You know that thing you’re focused on at every moment, because your life might actually depend on it? Here’s my advice: Focus on that thing!'”
What Smith said is, of course, hogwash. Horseshit. Victim-blaming. Perpetuation of damaging and destructive cultural narratives that soothe us into believing gender as frequently practiced is not also a system of violence in which certain bodies are ceded power and dominance over other bodies.
I cry foul. I call for new rules by which we understand what it means to live in intimacy with one another.
And that’s the last of this sportstalk I can stomach.
EDIT: Two other great takes on this topic
From Syreeta on Feministing, Why do we still insist women share responsibility for “provoking” their abuse?
From The Crunk Feminist Collective, The Blame Game: Black Women, Shame, and Victim Blaming