By Uche Onyebadi
With the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, the war against Ebola, the racial tensions exemplified by the recent killing of Michael Brown by an apparently trigger-happy policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, and all other issues that crowd the official schedule of the White House, the issue of domestic violence in the U.S. has not been getting deserved headlines. But, the issue has refused to drop off the radar of important public issues in the country.
This is partly because the focus on domestic violence right now is about Raymell Mourice “Ray” Rice, the Baltimore Ravens immensely talented running back who is more affectionately known as Ray Rice.
Ray became the subject of nation-wide outrage when a video tape surfaced and showed him dragging the limp body of his then fiancée, Janay Palmer, out of an elevator at a casino in Atlantic City. That was in February this year. Since then, Ray and Janay have patched things up and now legally married. The National Football League (NFL) slammed a two-game ban on Ray for his unruly behavior, a punishment that angered people who felt Ray got a slap on the wrist for such battering.
But, Ray’s problem never went way. The full video tape of that ugly incident later surfaced and actually showed that prior to Janay’s going cold, Ray had landed a professional uppercut punch on her, knocking the lady unconscious. That was when the real outrage engulfed America. And the consequence has been swift. The Baltimore Ravens have since severed ties with Ray.
The NFL has placed him on indefinite suspension as the NFL itself has come under intense criticism for not dealing decisively with cases of domestic abuse. Various interest groups are also calling on the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, to resign for mishandling the affair, citing that he put more premiums on protecting the NFL’s huge financial empire than on adequately punishing NFL players for abusing their spouses.
Ray Rice may today appear to be poster-boy for famous people with domestic abuse problem. But, he is in no way alone in this club of men who batter women. In the U.S., the list of offenders includes a variety of celebrities. Actor and film-maker, Mel Gibson belongs to this club. So is the unpredictable actor, Charlie Sheen.
Actress actor Emma Roberts was charged for beating up her boyfriend in Canada. Hip-hop musician Chris Brown had is run with the law when he lashed out and beat up his musician girlfriend, Rihanna. And, money-man and boxer Floyd Mayweather spent months in jail for the same abuse.
Some startling statistics from the U.S. body known as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence show that 1.3 women in U.S. face domestic abuse every year in the hands of an “intimate partner,” and one in every four women is likely to face domestic abuse in her lifetime. The organization says that 85 per cent of victims of domestic violence are women, and young boys who witness domestic violence in their homes are twice likely to abuse their partners later in life. The coalition estimates that this form of violence could cost as much as $5.8 billion a year, most of which is spent on “medical and mental health services.”
It is not that celebrities are the only perpetrators of violence against their domestic partners. Like every society, what celebrities do become more public because of their stature. Thus, what the statistics say about domestic violence in the U.S. might well be only a tip of the problem. Even then, the problem associated with celebrities engaged in domestic and other forms of violence is that who they are, and not what they did, is often what is accorded greater weight when it comes to imposing sanctions on them for their actions.
The case of Ray Rice is a good example of this idea. When the initial video tape came out, he only got a flimsy suspension that led to the loss of an inconsequential sum of money for a young man who earns millions of dollars playing football.
It was only the second video that caught him throwing the punch that spurred all national attention. But then, the question on every pair of lips is: did the NFL have to wait to see the punch on video before taking the matter with the seriousness it deserves?
What if the full-length video did not exist or for some reason it had disappeared or hidden from public view? There is even the accusation that the NFL officials and the management of the Baltimore Ravens had seen the full-length video but chose to ignore its gruesome nature, until it surfaced for public view on the Internet.
Both NFL and the Ravens management deny this accusation but in a highly capitalistic society where money “talks” several people believe that Ray Rice was being protected by the authorities because he was one of the fat cows that produced the financial milk for the organizations.
All said, the fact that the public is holding the NFL and Ravens accountable over their mishandling of Ray Rice’s action is important. It shows a society that can rise to fight the special treatment the rich and famous receive when they commit crimes whereas ordinary folks and children of lesser gods are heavily sanctioned for similar offenses.
One wonders if the Ray Rice in Nigeria and other developing nations where the rich are worshipped can face what the real Ray is now going through in the U.S. But, the real irony is that while Ray and his fiancée appear to have put the incident behind them and actually got married after it occurred, the U.S. society is adamant that a crime deserves its punishment. The idea is to send a clear warning to the Ray Rice of tomorrow that society has zero tolerance of domestic abuse.