Covering the Bruises: Domestic Violence in the NFL

It was a day Ray Rice wishes he could forget. February 15, 2014. Rice and his fiancée, Janay Palmer, were in Atlantic City. After a night of drinking, the two entered an elevator at the Revel Casino. Both were highly intoxicated. Security footage from a camera in the elevator showed the two exchanging words.  In a moment of anger, Rice cold-cocked his soon-to-be wife with one swift, powerful punch to the face. It’s a moment he can never have back, one America will never forget. As if someone hit her with a ton of bricks, Janay dropped to the floor, knocked unconscious in an instant. She hit her head on the wall on the way down.

As her body lay on the ground, the elevator had reached its destination. The doors opened. The then-Baltimore Ravens’ running back dragged Janay’s limp body through the elevator doors and out into the hallway, where she would eventually receive medical attention. He hasn’t played in an NFL game since. Over two years removed from the incident, Rice remains unemployed by the league. While that elevator video from the Revel has been difficult for many people to watch, and represents some of the most reprehensible relationship behavior, domestic violence is a pressing issue for both America and its most popular sports league, yet continues to be an afterthought.

Like Ray Rice, Johnny Manziel appeared to have it all. Athletic talent, a Heisman Trophy as a freshman – he’s the youngest player to ever win the award – and an opportunity to play in the NFL. But as his popularity grew, so did Johnny’s ego. His affinity for partying is no secret. Throughout his college career and first two unsuccessful seasons as a Cleveland Brown, Manziel never shied away from the spotlight. While he hardly saw the playing field, he couldn’t stop making headlines off of it. Drug and alcohol-fueled binges became the norm. As his life looked increasingly like a rock star’s opposed to a professional athlete’s, Johnny Football the celebrity killed Johnny Manziel the football player. But for all of Manziel’s off-the-field controversies, there is one that stands above the rest in severity.

 

Manziel is accused by his ex-girlfirend, Colleen Crowley, of domestic violence.

According to Crowley, the two had broken up in December, 2015, following two years of dating. However, on the night of Jan. 29, 2016, Manziel wanted to talk.

He invited her up to his room at the Hotel ZaZa in Dallas. According to Crowley, they got into an argument, leading Manziel to hit her repeatedly. After dragging her by the hair and forcing her into a car, he slapped her head, rupturing an eardrum and causing temporary hearing loss in her left ear. The valet service didn’t react to the cries for help. On the drive to Fort Worth, Crowley said Manziel threatened to kill both of them. She was afraid for her safety and his. The incident was investigated by Dallas police and sent to a grand jury, where a decision remains pending.

Ray Rice had never been accused of character issues before. Drafted by the Baltimore Ravens out of Rutgers University in the second round as the 55th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, he had been nothing short of a model player. No fines. No suspensions. No reason to worry. But because of that night, everything changed.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had the opportunity to make an example of Rice, to show the country that domestic violence towards women would not be tolerated.

He failed. Unexplainably, he initially suspended Ray Rice for two games. To put into sobering perspective, the league tried to suspend Tom Brady four games for allegedly deflating footballs. Apparently, the NFL cares more about PSI than protecting women.

 

If it were up to the NFL, Ray Rice would likely still be playing today. Most people wouldn’t even remember, let alone care, that he had a short suspension two years ago. But there was one unforeseen problem.The video. It was obtained from the Revel Casino and released by TMZ.  People were horrified. After a predictable public backlash, the NFL announced that it had suspended Rice indefinitely in September 2014. The images of a professional athlete as strong and powerful Rice knocking out his small, defenseless fiancée were horrific and hard to watch. He became a lightning rod for criticism, and rightfully so. But it wasn’t because of domestic violence that Ray Rice’s name will live in infamy –  not because he punched his wife. It’s because he got caught on tape. If TMZ had not released that video, people would not have been in an outrage. There would be no criticism of Roger Goodell, no one calling for a longer suspension. Rice would have served his two games and finished out his career as planned. This raises one burning question: What do people think domestic violence looks like? The women with black-eyes, bruises and broken bones didn’t do it to themselves. They did not magically appear.

Someone inflicted them. And it’s happening too often to countless women across the country who are incapable of defending themselves.

 

Johnny Manziel is lucky that there is no tape of his alleged crimes. It is almost unthinkable to recreate the images of him striking Crowley repeatedly, dragging her by the hair and hitting her so hard she became deaf for a short time. Hopefully, the NFL will learn from the public relations disaster that resulted from the mishandling of the Rice case and level a strong penalty against Manziel if he is found guilty.

The NFL is a league that prides itself on its image, one of the reasons a strict personal conduct policy has been enacted over the last decade or so.  But the actions of players reflect directly on the league. Instead of concentrating all its efforts on “protecting the shield,” the NFL needs to prioritize protecting women.

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