Culture of blaming the victim is root cause of failure for NFL, Ravens in Ray Rice case

Eric Adelson
Yahoo Sports

Whenever there's an allegation of domestic abuse, defenders of the accused bring up due process. In light of Ray Rice being cut by the Baltimore Ravens on Monday, hours after TMZ published a video of the running back assaulting his wife in an elevator, consider the completely undue process Janay Palmer has endured over the past several months. Consider how much hurt and humiliation it took for this sorry semblance of a resolution to be reached:

Palmer was victimized by her then fiancé punching her in the face.

She was immediately victimized again, by Rice failing to comfort or console her or even cover up her exposed legs as she lay unconscious in an opened elevator. Rice, who crouches for a living, didn't even bend over to look at her.

The Ravens terminated the multimillion dollar contract with RB Ray Rice on Monday. (Getty Images)
The Ravens terminated the multimillion dollar contract with RB Ray Rice on Monday. (Getty Images)

She was victimized by the Ravens rushing not to assist her, a member of their football family who had been assaulted, but to their star player. Palmer's assault was termed a "distraction."

She was victimized by being forced to sit up in front of the media and apologize for her role in being punched in the face.

She was victimized by Rice's lawyer's disgusting "complete hypothetical," wherein it was suggested that it was she who instigated and Rice who defended himself.

[Related: NFL says it hadn't seen the Ray Rice video, but why not?]

She was victimized by the justice system, which somehow didn't pursue full charges against Rice.

She was victimized by the NFL's justice system, which somehow didn't see enough evidence to suspend Rice for more than two games. Now the league is being loudly questioned over why it hadn't seen the tape before issuing punishment. If Major League Baseball was able to get evidence during the Biogenesis scandal, why couldn't the NFL get a tape from a hotel?

She was victimized by Ravens fans, who cheered Rice upon his return to the field, where he was asked on TV what "encouraging words" his wife had for him before getting this ovation.

Janay Palmer (AP)
Janay Palmer (AP)

And there would be one more victimization: the footage of the punch. Palmer was assaulted again Monday morning, in a brutal invasion of her privacy. And it was that final intrusion that woke up a world that had slumbered through her ordeal.

This undue process happened because it was comforting to think there were two sides to this story. Many people didn't really want to see that video. They wanted to believe Rice was attacked by Palmer and did something to warrant being punched in the face. From the moment part of the video became public over the summer until Monday morning, it was easy to put some blame on Janay Palmer.

The woman always gets the burden of proof and the burden of pain. The woman is always cast as the gold digger, the mentally imbalanced stalker, the inappropriate dresser. The woman is always the provocateur.

[Related: Video amplifies Roger Goodell's biggest misstep]

If Palmer didn't have her privacy invaded – if Rice's punch happened in their non-videotaped home – he would still be a hero and she would still be the hero's suffering wife.

How do we know this? Well, look at Floyd Mayweather. He's been convicted of domestic violence (and recently accused again of troubling behavior) and there will be plenty of cheers for him this weekend. There were plenty of cheers for San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald when he played against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday despite being arrested for allegedly abusing his pregnant girlfriend. And there were plenty of cheers on Sunday for Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Greg Hardy, who was convicted this summer for assaulting his girlfriend.

The details of the Hardy case are arguably more appalling than that of the Rice incident. Hardy's girlfriend, Nicole Holder, testified that Hardy "looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me. I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip slightly, I said, 'Just do it. Kill me.'"

That came after the testimony of Hardy throwing Holder into a bathtub, tossing her onto a futon covered with rifles, slamming a toilet seat cover onto her arm, dragging her by her hair, and putting his hands around her throat.

Hardy is 6-foot-4, 275 pounds.

His defense attorney, per the Charlotte Observer, "described Holder as an erratic young woman desperate to be back at Hardy's side and in the limelight that commands. He said she was high on hours of drinking and buzzing on cocaine when she flew into a jealous rage after Hardy told her to leave the apartment."

Can you really blame the lawyer for casting a woman in this light? After all, it works.

Greg Hardy (AP)
Greg Hardy (AP)

Hardy was convicted by a judge, exercised his right to a jury trial, and then was further protected by the Panthers, who restricted questions from media about the case. He played in the season opener against Tampa Bay, a day before Rice was suspended.

Place the blame on any institution here: the Panthers or Ravens, the NFL, the legal system, or the media. But this isn't an institutional failure. It's a societal failure. We don't believe women. We think they're wrong and we have to be convinced they are right. It took weeks of humiliation and a videotape before Janay Palmer got some justice, and it isn't much justice.

According to a 2013 story in The New Yorker, "One in every four women is a victim of domestic physical violence at some point in her life, and the Justice Department estimates that three women and one man are killed by their partners every day. [Roughly eighty-five per cent of the victims of domestic violence are women.] Between 2000 and 2006, thirty-two hundred American soldiers were killed; during that period, domestic homicide in the United States claimed ten thousand six hundred lives."

Yet the victimization continues because the burden of proof continues to be misplaced. Why didn't Janay Palmer simply dump Ray Rice? If he was that bad, she wouldn't have married him.

But that's even more victimization – another part of what The New Yorker describes as "a deep cultural misunderstanding of how violence operates. We assume that victims incite abuse, or that if the situation at home was truly threatening they would leave."

Here again, it's on the victim. It's the woman who should take action. It's the woman who needs to solve her own problem.

Janay Palmer was helpless in that elevator, helpless as she lay unconscious, helpless when placed in front of the nation's media, helpless to prevent the onslaught of judgment, and helpless to keep the world from viewing her assault. She is only one of millions of women who are helpless.

Their undue process goes on and on.

What to Read Next