|Janay and Ray Rice in May of this year|
Does Janay Rice have the right to deny that she is a victim?
Janay is the wife of former Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice. Security video from Atlantic City's now-closed Revel Casino documented a confrontation between the two in February when Ray appears to punch Janay into unconsciousness while they shared an elevator ride.
The two were engaged at the time. They're now married.
Entertainment outlet TMZ presented the incriminating video yesterday, and the Ravens fired Ray, who was already on suspension for earlier footage TMZ had released showing Ray dragging an unresponsive Janay from the elevator.
In the longer version of TMZ's video, Janay and Ray can be seen approaching the elevator bank, and the two are waving their arms at each other in a swatting motion, but it's difficult to tell if they were having an argument, or if they were playfully goofing around. Janay, who reaches an open elevator first, does not seem to mind that Ray follows her inside. If she was angry with him, or fearful of him, wouldn't it have made sense that she'd have tried to either keep him out of the elevator, or rush back out to get another one?
Once inside the elevator, TMZ's extended video shows Janay again swatting - or swinging her fist - at Ray, and that's when he strikes her and knocks her out. She falls limp to the floor, and when they eventually reach their floor, Ray unceremoniously drags her from the elevator, her shoes coming off of her feet, her buttocks nearly visible. Very careless, undignified, and crude.
The Associated Press eventually presented another video featuring better resolution and audio, in which the couple can be heard yelling obscenities at each other in the elevator. Janay also spits at Ray, before he slugs her. When Ray drags her out of the elevator, a couple of hotel staffers are in the hallway, and ask him if she's drunk. And then somebody says "no cops."
But it was TMZ's grainy, silent video that first spoke volumes yesterday as it worked its way through the World Wide Web, with viewers reacting in shock and disdain. That's when the Ravens realized they had a public relations disaster on their hands, and they swiftly released Ray from his multi-million-dollar contract.
Then this morning, none other than Janay herself posted on Instagram that she's "hurt beyond words." But she's not hurt by the way her then-fiance treated her; no, she's hurt by the media's exploitation of their episode in the elevator. Janay blames the media for getting her husband fired, and for taking unfair advantage of a private matter between the couple.
So, can Janay do that? Logically, can she say she's not a victim? Can she say that what happened between herself and Ray is none of our business? And, speaking of business, does she have the right to be upset that the standard of living she apparently expected to enjoy from her husband's promising career now seems to be gone forever? Because we've all made such a fuss?
After all, drug abusers, dog fighters, and drunk drivers who kill fellow teammates in DWI accidents can get reinstated in the NFL. But can woman-beaters? The NFL tolerates a lot of bad behavior, but look at how quickly the Ravens pulled the plug on Ray. Over something that happened in February.
Some experts have theorized that Janay suffers from the Stockholm syndrome, a bizarre condition in which victims end up supporting their abuser. A lot of other people surmise that Janay is little more than a gold-digger who tolerated Ray's abuse so she could share in his wealth, and is now upset that all of her agony apparently has been for naught.
To a certain extent, Janay is correct in insinuating that we don't know a lot about her personal, private relationship with Ray. Maybe they really have changed, since they've been in counseling this summer. Maybe the two of them had developed some sort of mutual understanding that their relationship was going to be more violent than an average romance. Maybe they both come from family backgrounds where physical abuse was common. Maybe she's got a temper worse than Ray's, and she's afraid that the more the media investigates, the more unflattering things we'll learn about her.
Yet still, when anybody - whether it's a man or woman - gets punched so forcefully they're knocked unconscious, isn't that person now a victim? That's clear abuse, isn't it? If Janay had punched Ray unconscious, he'd have been the victim, right? You don't get to change the definition of victim just because you are one, do you? You don't get to change the definition of victim just because "victim" doesn't fit the narrative you want for the situation, or for your life. Do you?
One thing neither Janay nor Ray get to deny is the fact that his career makes him a celebrity, and celebrities - for good or bad - become role models in almost any society. The only reason Ray was being paid millions of dollars is because football players work in front of a live audience on live television. The more famous you are, the more money you command. You don't even have to be good at what you do: just look at the Dallas Cowboys, who, despite their dismal record, are the second-most-valuable sports franchise in the world.
No matter what team they're on, NFL players are usually among the highest-paid people in whatever city they're playing, and they're admired by kids and other impressionable people for both their gridiron prowess and their off-the-field charisma. If you don't want to be a celebrity, then there are plenty of other careers where you won't be one. If you love football so much, then there are plenty of youth coaching jobs where you'll get to train kids to love the game as much as you do, and be paid by job satisfaction, not dollars.
Meanwhile, there are many other women out there getting beaten by their date, boyfriend, fiance, husband, or ex-husband, and they're watching this Rice tragedy unfold in the media, wondering if maybe they aren't a victim after all. Look at Janay, they may think, and she says she's not a victim. She's upset at the way her husband is being treated. Shucks, he came out today and told CNN that "I'm being strong for my wife." Some people are mocking his duplicity, but doesn't his quote mean they love each other?
For anybody out there who can relate to Janay's experience in that Atlantic City elevator, listen to this: Janay is a victim, whether she admits it or not. She's not a victim of the media, or of the Ravens, or the NFL, or the general public. She's Ray's victim.
How can any of us say that? After all, none of us were in that elevator that night.
Janay, we can identify you as a victim because men of integrity do not strike out at anybody hard enough to knock them out, even if that person has just spit at them.
Men of integrity do not encourage relationships with women to be built around aggression or violence, even if they think they have an understanding about mild slapping and hitting.
Men of integrity, if they see anybody in distress, call for help. They don't try to disguise anybody's distress to hotel employees who are in a position to provide immediate aid.
Men of integrity do not drag their fiances out of elevators like the woman is an obstinate dog, or a bulky box.
Men of integrity do not let their unconscious lady simply lie on the floor, disheveled and exposed, like she's anything other than a human being.
Men of integrity do not pretend as though they're the magnanimous ones for standing by their lady when she's upset that people think he's abusing her. After a summer of counseling, Ray should know better than to frame his position in this narrative that way.
Nevertheless, Janay writes on Instagram that she and Ray are "going to show the world what real love is."
Let's hope that happens. Because it hasn't yet.
After all, victims are often the last ones to realize how much they've been hurt.