Women are abused every day, perhaps no less so than a few decades ago when the problem was not as open for the public to see as it has been in the early 21st century. This abuse might be even less understood by the general public than it was a decade ago, at least based on some data I’ve studied. Reports of such abuse are as common now as ever but the response to them has not improved nearly as much as we should desire. Many abusive situations are settled in ways that leave me uneasy, to put it mildly. Let me cite one story to underscore how my sense of outrage about this issue was spiked just a few weeks ago.
Exhibit A – The recent ruling of the National Football League (NFL) in the case of Ray Rice. Rice, a star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, received a suspension of only two games for a domestic violence incident in February. This particular incident left Rice’s fiancé Janay Palmer (who is now his wife) lying unconscious outside an Atlantic City casino elevator. The NFL’s punishment of Ray Rice sends a chilling statement to women and anyone else who cares about domestic violence in a culture where males still abuse women in significant numbers. (If the history of NFL punishment is carefully considered the league’s response to Rice is weak and sends all the wrong signals. He was banned for only two games in a sixteen game season!) Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, suspended Rice for less time than he has players for marijuana use and other lesser offenses. Phil Taylor, writing in the August 4 issue of Sports Illustrated, said, “It’s the casual attitude about the assault from the commissioner’s office” that sends all the wrong signals. I agree.
In contrast NBA commissioner Adam Silver responded to the Donald Sterling racist flap with deep emotion and then stood his ground against the owner by banning his ownership interest in the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. In listening to Roger Goodell’s response, and that of his fellow NFL peers, there appeared to be nothing that conveyed any real sense of disgust. Phil Taylor asked: “How is anyone supposed to believe the league truly cares about the welfare of female fans after this?” Indeed, how?
Ray Rice pleaded “not guilty” to aggravated assault and will avoid jail time. He will also have his record expunged if he completes a pretrial intervention program. When all is said and done this whole episode underscores for women, children and uncaring men that beating a woman is nothing more than a minor slip-up. John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens coach, underscored this attitude when he said, “It’s not a big deal.” Really coach? He added, about Ray Rice, “He’s a heck of a guy. He’s done everything right since. He [made] a mistake, all right?” To his credit Ray Rice has shown remorse for his actions and his girlfriend did marry him. (More about this later.) But the coach’s response doesn’t help me to believe the league, with all its testosterone-driven culture, cares at all about women.
Phil Taylor is right to conclude, “It’s hard to believe anyone would be so tone-deaf.” I think that Taylor, an African-American journalist, nails it. But I believe that he not only underscores a problem in our wider culture but one that is inside our churches. I am not referring to physical assault, at least in most cases. I refer to the incredibly destructive problem of emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse that goes on in the name of male leadership over women. The dirty little secret is that men still talk about women in ways that demean and destroy their confidence in their brothers. I will develop this thought tomorrow. I hope you will bear with me and keep reading.