Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Ray Rice, Power, and Domestic Violence in the NFL

Rape, now more commonly called sexual assault, is the end and the beginning of many things. It can be the end of innocence and trust, for as long as it takes to recapture that, and the beginning of guilt, shame, fear, sexual problems, infertility, mental and physical illnesses, isolation, and more.

Tearing it apart, the perpetrator overpowers a victim, a person who protests, and having more power over this person, commits a crime of passion, of sorts, Those cries of "No, I don't want you to . . ."  (do whatever it is that is objectionable at the time) are overruled by brute force.

We tend to think of a sexual assault perpetrator as larger-than-life, stronger than your average Joe, but more often than not, he's not. Sometimes he's the person you would never suspect, might even respect (think of teachers). When the suspect is a professional football player he is stronger, indomitable.

Six years ago sexual violence was outed in the NFL.  Ben Roethlisberger, accused of numerous sexual assaults settled one of them, a casino incident. Stories like this are buried, no surprise.  If you want access to our locker rooms for your sports column, you had better make this one die of natural causes.

Now we have Ray Rice beating his wife to unconsciousness. And nobody is burying anything.

Strangely enough, before I saw the infamous clip, public since February (!), I was watching highlights of Monday night football and came to a crazy conclusion.  That athletes brush off tackles and crashes to the head is astounding. These people are stupefying, superhuman. Inhuman, brushing off falls that would put most of us out of commission for weeks. How does a person endure so much physical abuse and still pop back up and play ball?* Players learn to endure pain, is the answer, and it is admirable.

But here's the point:  Maybe they project that invulnerability onto others, assume we ordinary mortals can take physical abuse, too. There are other explanations, from poor family and peer role models to the narcissism learned as a child, treated special, always, as a potential star. Groomed for college ball and maybe the NFL, women and cars, hotels and alcohol, are assumed. Those courses on ethics are skipped, too boring.  And maybe men like Ray Rice actually are fooled into thinking that women like his fiance can take a wallop on the head, like he can.

Ray Rice needs to know what it is that happened there in the elevator, decking his wife with one blow, dragging her seemingly lifeless body from the elevator floor to the corridor. He is probably as surprised as any of us, and yet, it is unlikely this is his first physical altercation. His father died when he was one year old, shot dead. John Clayton:

"I faced a lot of adversity," Rice (told me once by phone), "and I had to be a man real young.".

The NFL response? New policies are in the works that will (surely) reduce violence perpetrated by players. That is the intent.

Not everyone agrees that the new policies will be enough. Certainly not those of us who work with victims and perpetrators. It is changing personality we are talking about: impulse control, narcissism, and empathy, and a different defiintion of manhood. A year in therapy is a start, but education, workshops, testimonies from survivors of assault, so many that the words of survivors are predictable, this type of exposure is what these very large men, players like Ray Rice need. Even with those workshops there will be sociopathic players who feel they are above being told what to do and what not to do, what is expected of them as human beings, members of the human race.

Social workers approached Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, with assault prevention workshops years ago. As anti-violence experts, we received polite applications. Fill these out. Let us know your plan. We'll get back to you. Don't call us. . .We'll call you.

Something tells me the applications hit the waste basket pretty quick.


 *Players aren't actually superhuman, and they know it. Concussions, many of them, are an occupational hazard. The self-abuse of a life-time in sports is future-changing, predicts a difficult retirement. Cognitive functioning, you know, is a terrible thing to waste.  I hope Janay Palmer is okay.


Karen said...

What worries me is what comes next for Rice's wife. Now he's out of a job. Now he probably blames her for the disgraceful dismissal. Now she is maybe in danger of being beaten again or worse.

Sarah said...

I like your analysis very much, but I disagree with the description of sexual assault as a "crime of passion" Isn't it more rightly characterized - as you also do - as a crime of "control". Passion suggests love; it suggests that someone could be overcome with love and intensity for someone and simply...what?...take it too far? Passion is the wrong word here. It allows us to understand how rape could have happened, when in fact an explanation based in love is unjustified and incredibly problematic. Just my two cents!

therapydoc said...

I'd worry, also, Karen. That's why victims don't report, fearful of reprisals. In this case, with so much publicity, she'll probably either reconcile with couples' therapy, or leave. The world is watching, which changes, perhaps, that predictable outcome.

And thank you Sarah. Right, violence is most often a deliberate act, not a spontaneous thing, and usually the emotion, if there is one, is anger. When it is domestic violence, however, often the emotion of whatever a couple is fighting about does fuel a passionate, if violent response. If you watch the video, it seems that before the couple enter the elevator that they are arguing. Ms. Palmer, in fact, appears to have slapped at Rice.

Sarah said...

A good point. I was referring to rape specifically - wanting to be careful about not categorizing it as an act of passion instead of an act of power. You're right that in the context of this particular case, passion may fit.

Ray Rice said...

Ray Rice needs to know what it is that happened there in the elevator, decking his wife with one blow, dragging her seemingly lifeless body ... irayrice.blogspot.com