In a desperate act of reputational self-preservation, the National Football League has banished Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice after the release of an incriminating video that shows him cold-cocking his fiancée in a hotel elevator. Many people, including football fans, cheered this overdue (if cynical) display of public morality by an outfit that harbours its share of violent thugs.
But not the battered fiancée, Janay Palmer – who is now Mrs. Janay Rice. Instead, she lashed out at the media for victimizing her all over again.
"To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing," she wrote on Instagram. "To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE!"
It all began last February, when the couple had an early-morning fight in an Atlantic City elevator. The police took them to the station. A few days later, TMZ released a video of Mr. Rice dragging his fiancée's limp body from the elevator. (It didn't show the blow that knocked her down.)
From the start, Ms. Rice has stood by her man. She married him the day after he was charged with assault. In May, she appeared by his side at a press conference, where she declared that she, too, was to blame. "I do deeply regret the role that I played in the incident that night," she said, "but I can say that I am happy that we continued to work through it together." It all added up to a get-out-of-jail-free card for her husband. Thanks to his contrition, her support and his promise to get counselling, he avoided jail and drew a meagre two-game suspension.
What are we to make of her? Could she possibly be sincere? Or is she just trying to save her own skin and salvage her meal ticket? Who put her up to that humiliating press conference? Or is she so brainwashed that she actually believes what she said? Why the heck does she stay?
I can't know what's in her heart. But I'm pretty sure it's complicated. Ms. Rice's behaviour is typical of domestic-abuse victims.
Contrary to popular belief, they're not all Stepford wives. More often than not, they're rational actors and really do love their partners. They understand what's happened to them and they're upset, but they want to move on and the system won't let them. For perfectly pragmatic reasons, they don't want their guys to go to jail. They rightly fear that the loss of their jobs and careers will be disastrous for their families. Maybe they have kids (the Rices have a daughter) who need their fathers, even if flawed. And they really, really hope those fathers will change. After all, they've sworn – often – that they'll never do it again.
In a typical case, by the time police intervene, the woman has already been abused for quite a while. Without a lot of help, the man is likely to do it again. And whatever it is she's done to upset him, the fact that he punched her lights out is not her fault. How could it be? The guy is usually much stronger than she is. He has a right to defend himself, but not to beat her unconscious.
In this case, however, the team, the league, the husband and a distressing number of fans and commentators – aided and abetted by Ms. Rice's own words – have insinuated that she provoked him, and he simply lost control. At the press conference, Mr. Rice apologized for "the situation my wife and I were in," and said: "Me and Janay together, what counselling has done for us, we want the world to see that it definitely did help us out." Notably, he apologized to everyone except his wife.
Mr. Rice's lawyer told reporters the situation was "more complex" than it appeared, hinting that she had started it. An all-male panel of ESPN commentators said there was no way to know what really happened in that elevator. (Maybe she just fainted!) They praised Mr. Rice as a "model citizen." One shared the advice he offers to the women in his life: "Let's make sure we don't do anything to provoke wrong actions."
Of course Ms. Rice didn't want the second video released. It cost her husband his career and made her nightmare infinitely worse. But it's also showed the truth about what happened – making the NFL and the Ravens and the idiots on ESPN look complicit in minimizing domestic abuse. Obviously they simply swallowed their hero's sanitized version of the story. They stupidly ignored the existence of the second video, even though, in a TMZ world, it was bound to surface. Their only aim was to protect the franchise. There is no sign that anybody gave a damn about Ms. Rice.
As for whether she's right or wrong to stay, I have no idea. I really think she loves him. I really hope he changes. Sometimes, they do.