Content warning: This post discusses domestic abuse, and could be triggering to those who have personally experienced it in any form. Please take that into consideration should you choose to read. If you are currently or have been a victim of domestic abuse, help is available. 1-800-799-SAFE connects to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Local YWCAs also have helpful contacts for those working through abuse.
We first moved to Nebraska in 1981, and because my dad’s military field was rather niche, we ended up living outside of Omaha for most of his Air Force career. At least that’s what it felt like. When he retired in 1998, he and my mom stayed put, and I ended up here as well.
Our family has always been a sports fan family, and when we moved to Nebraska, it would make sense for us to adopt the local
professional college football team, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. And despite being true BYU blue, I did root for Nebraska as well.
Then in the mid-90s, Lawrence Phillips was arrested for beating his girlfriend. The court of public opinion demanded that Phillips be kicked off the team. Anything less would be a tacit endorsement of his actions.
Tom Osborne, the legendary and sainted head coach, suspended him for a couple of games. Osborne’s logic–as reported by the press, so take it for what it’s worth–was that the structure of the football program could help Phillips rehabilitate. Phillips was drafted to the NFL after his junior year.
That was the year I stopped following Nebraska football. It was the year after I left an abusive fiancee.
Exactly 20 years ago this month, I had the last conversation I would ever have with my abuser. I left our tiny apartment in April 1994, but it took three more months to finally rid myself of him–which is actually misleading. I didn’t want to rid myself of him. That last conversation was me telling him that if he got counseling for his anger issues, then I would go back and we could get married. He insisted that I was the one with the problems, not him.
“No one else will ever want to marry you,” he said, as he hung up the phone. I never heard from him again.
I was so, so, so lucky. He didn’t hit me daily, just occasionally. Emotional barbs were his weapon of choice, and only when I dared to match his words did it turn physical (thus his contention that his physical abuse was my fault). Our relationship only lasted one year. So, so, so lucky.
20 years is a long time, and while the cuts and bruises he gave me are long gone, the emotional scars, though mostly healed, seem to burst open occasionally.
Like when I see TMZ videos of Ray Rice dragging his fiancee out of an elevator.
Watching that video is an out-of-body experience for me. I wasn’t dragged out of an elevator, but I was dragged across a room when a right cross to my face caused me to crumple to the floor. I wasn’t unconscious, but I pretended to be (as much as one can) in hopes it would stop the beating.
So when Roger Goodell thinks that a two-game suspension is sufficient punishment regardless of a grand jury indictment, the message is clear to me:
I was already on the fence about watching the NFL this season because of their absolute negligence with concussions and their laughable tax-exempt status. But this seals it. I can’t watch anymore.
I haven’t spoken publicly very often about my experience with domestic abuse, but when I read stories like this one, I can’t stay silent. I’m lucky that I’m far away from my abuser and that I’ve had no contact with him for 20 years. I can even publish this online, relatively free from the fear that he will find a way to hurt me for being vocal about it.
Too many women in this country can’t. Too many women, in the interest of literal self-preservation, have to stay silent and hope stories like Ray Rice’s don’t embolden their own significant others’ behaviors. Especially given his consequences.
I can say that a two-game suspension for this is wrong. I can say that the NFL no longer has me as a consumer. I can say to any woman or man suffering through an abusive relationship: help is always there when you want it. I can say to survivors and victims of domestic abuse that I know these words, survivor and victim, are now part of your identity, but a full life is still completely possible.
And while Ray Rice’s actions will occupy the news for the next day or so, and then again when his laughable two-game suspension is over, think about this:
According to Safe Horizon, “one in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime.” The CDC identifies that every minute, 24 people per minute are either raped, stalked, or assaulted by someone who at one point probably said “I love you.”
That night in Atlantic City, Ray Rice wasn’t the only man in America who assaulted a woman. He’s the only one getting any attention right now, but he wasn’t the only one who should have been the subject of a grand jury investigation.
I hope his court-mandated first-time offender program truly does change him. That his comments to the press about focusing on being a better husband and father are genuine. That maybe he can become an advocate for victims of domestic abuse. Because the world really could use more people shouting from the rooftops that this behavior is not okay, and mean it (I’m looking at you, Stephen A. Smith).
Heaven knows the NFL isn’t shouting it at all.