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The Tale of Two Videos

Posted on September 12, 2014

I’ve been watching with interest the Ray Rice domestic violence incident unfold this week.  For many of us in the helping profession, the reality of relational violence is all too familiar.  As this reality filters through the National Football League (NFL), and the culture at large, there seem to be teaching moments that those of us in the field might not want to let pass by.  In this post, I want to explore these in detail because, like so many traumatic events, this too will not have a long life in our nation’s consciousness.  I also want to provide the opportunity for us to have a conversation around this issue, so please put your own reactions in the comment section of this post.
“Hitting a women is not something a real man does…” – White House
“…a woman is lesser than you and can’t fight back.  If that’s my sister or my daughter, then we have another issue…” – Ray Lewis, former teammate of Ray Rice
What is a “real man?”  And why do so many men feel the need to retain our machismo, even when denouncing a terrible act of violence?  It seems that in order to judge Rice, we must first affirm that we are strong and he is weak, flawed, and less than a “real man.”  This response worries me, as it seems as if we need to establish that the act of hitting a woman is wrong, but also leave plenty of room for “real men” to commit other violent acts.
This distinction of hitting a woman from other violent acts was never more evident than in the distinction made by the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens (Rice’s former employer) between dragging an unconscious woman out of an elevator, and the actual act that led to her being unconscious.  The first act earned Rice a two game suspension from the NFL, actual praise from the Ravens organization, and a huge ovation from Raven’s fans during a pre-season game.  A peek inside the elevator changed Rice from a good “real man” who knocked out his wife, to an “evil man” who needs to be removed from football.
There is plenty of blame to pass along in this situation.  How could the New Jersey authorities not press assault charges? How could the NFL not punish domestic violence to the degree they punish marijuana use? How could the Ravens organization and fans cheer for someone who could commit such an act?  As we push those we blame off the plank of public opinion, we might feel better, but we also fall into our old pattern of not looking in the mirror, addressing our collective role in creating a society where domestic violence is so prevalent.

This very week, the same NFL broadcasts that were throwing stones at Rice, the Ravens, and the NFL, also showed another violent act almost continuously.  In the Steelers vs. Browns game on Sunday, Antonio Brown laid out a flying kick to punter Spencer Lanning’s face.  While I’m fully aware of the difference between a man hitting his wife and one kicking a helmeted punter in the face, few can argue that both are very violent acts. 

Does the context of a game make dangerous violence okay?  And if we say yes, does this explain why violence is okay for “real men,” unless we see them actually hitting a woman?  Do we, as a society, hold any responsibly for a man’s violent actions after we have rewarded and celebrated his success in the violence that is football?  Without a moment of hesitation, we cheer week after week as young men break bones, damage their brains, and give up their long term health and well-being for our entertainment.
Should we be surprised when men who grew up in this glorified arena of violence take this mindset into relationships outside the football field?  If Rice hit a man, would we have the same “real man” reaction?  What if he hit a man on the football field with the exact same result, would we banish him?  Or would we play the highlight over and over again for all to see?
Once again, society is struggling with something we see on a daily basis.  Once again, we have a choice: we can focus our energy on blaming the individual, or step back and look at the society that creates this violence in every community.  If we miss another opportunity for self-reflection, we all hold the responsibility for not taking this moment to search for the “real problem.”   

I will admit I love football.  Being born in South Bend, Indiana (home of Notre Dame) I had little choice.  I will also admit to being a mindless consumer of the violence inherent to the game.  As someone who holds a value of nonviolence core to who I am as a person, I’m strongly rethinking this love.  I have little power to change the culture of the NFL or America, but I do have the ability to walk away from the television and not support the violence.  What would a “Real Man” do? 

The Tale of Two Videos

Posted on September 12, 2014

I’ve been watching with interest the Ray Rice domestic violence incident unfold this week.  For many of us in the helping profession, the reality of relational violence is all too familiar.  As this reality filters through the National Football League (NFL), and the culture at large, there seem to be teaching moments that those of us in the field might not want to let pass by.  In this post, I want to explore these in detail because, like so many traumatic events, this too will not have a long life in our nation’s consciousness.  I also want to provide the opportunity for us to have a conversation around this issue, so please put your own reactions in the comment section of this post.
“Hitting a women is not something a real man does…” – White House
“…a woman is lesser than you and can’t fight back.  If that’s my sister or my daughter, then we have another issue…” – Ray Lewis, former teammate of Ray Rice
What is a “real man?”  And why do so many men feel the need to retain our machismo, even when denouncing a terrible act of violence?  It seems that in order to judge Rice, we must first affirm that we are strong and he is weak, flawed, and less than a “real man.”  This response worries me, as it seems as if we need to establish that the act of hitting a woman is wrong, but also leave plenty of room for “real men” to commit other violent acts.
This distinction of hitting a woman from other violent acts was never more evident than in the distinction made by the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens (Rice’s former employer) between dragging an unconscious woman out of an elevator, and the actual act that led to her being unconscious.  The first act earned Rice a two game suspension from the NFL, actual praise from the Ravens organization, and a huge ovation from Raven’s fans during a pre-season game.  A peek inside the elevator changed Rice from a good “real man” who knocked out his wife, to an “evil man” who needs to be removed from football.
There is plenty of blame to pass along in this situation.  How could the New Jersey authorities not press assault charges? How could the NFL not punish domestic violence to the degree they punish marijuana use? How could the Ravens organization and fans cheer for someone who could commit such an act?  As we push those we blame off the plank of public opinion, we might feel better, but we also fall into our old pattern of not looking in the mirror, addressing our collective role in creating a society where domestic violence is so prevalent.

This very week, the same NFL broadcasts that were throwing stones at Rice, the Ravens, and the NFL, also showed another violent act almost continuously.  In the Steelers vs. Browns game on Sunday, Antonio Brown laid out a flying kick to punter Spencer Lanning’s face.  While I’m fully aware of the difference between a man hitting his wife and one kicking a helmeted punter in the face, few can argue that both are very violent acts. 

Does the context of a game make dangerous violence okay?  And if we say yes, does this explain why violence is okay for “real men,” unless we see them actually hitting a woman?  Do we, as a society, hold any responsibly for a man’s violent actions after we have rewarded and celebrated his success in the violence that is football?  Without a moment of hesitation, we cheer week after week as young men break bones, damage their brains, and give up their long term health and well-being for our entertainment.
Should we be surprised when men who grew up in this glorified arena of violence take this mindset into relationships outside the football field?  If Rice hit a man, would we have the same “real man” reaction?  What if he hit a man on the football field with the exact same result, would we banish him?  Or would we play the highlight over and over again for all to see?
Once again, society is struggling with something we see on a daily basis.  Once again, we have a choice: we can focus our energy on blaming the individual, or step back and look at the society that creates this violence in every community.  If we miss another opportunity for self-reflection, we all hold the responsibility for not taking this moment to search for the “real problem.”   

I will admit I love football.  Being born in South Bend, Indiana (home of Notre Dame) I had little choice.  I will also admit to being a mindless consumer of the violence inherent to the game.  As someone who holds a value of nonviolence core to who I am as a person, I’m strongly rethinking this love.  I have little power to change the culture of the NFL or America, but I do have the ability to walk away from the television and not support the violence.  What would a “Real Man” do? 

4 responses to “The Tale of Two Videos”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great post–we indeed have a discordant relationship with violence in our culture. Video games, movies, sports, etc.–they all permeate and form our cultural norms. What’s curious to me is the reaction to the second video this week and what makes this different than the myriad of police reports and ex parte orders and the overwhelming statistics that show nearly 1/3 of women experience intimate partner violence. What do we think happens behind closed doors? A version of that elevator video is played out innumerable times across our country every day and no one sees it–why is it that we need video proof to tap into our outrage and force accountability from those involved? Our culture is good at shutting its eyes to things it doesn’t want to see (poverty, inequity, racism, homelessness, need I go on?)–does it really require us filming our most intimate moments in order for us to be real with the problems in our community?
    ~ Barbara DiPietro, National Health Care for the Homeless Council

  2. Anonymous says:

    Wow Matt! Good one! As a fellow football fan, social worker, and proponent of non-violence, I share your concerns but I’m not quite ready to turn the TV off on Sunday afternoons. Issues with violence in this country are so damn complex. The media won’t show flag drapped coffins on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, but the videos of ISIS decapitating a young man and Ray Rice punching his fiance in the face get 24/7 coverage. Violence is the American way. It’s modeled as a value from the White House to the out house, to grotesque movies, television shows, and video games. I also believe we cannot deny our perhaps innate animal tendency to behave in violent ways, but those behaviors should be reserved for our responses to life threatening situations in which we have no choice. I will ponder this further today and thanks as always for your thoughtfulness and insight.
    Bernie

  3. Anonymous says:

    Maybe because I have worked extensively with those who have messed up and need second, (and third and fourth) chances, I actually thought about him and what help he needs. It is sad that instead of offering him intensive treatment to address what in his life made him into an abuser; he is now cut off from what was his career for life. I agree a two game suspension wasn’t enough, but a life time ban? What if you or I were found guilty of domestic violence, we would have a chance to work our way back. I can’t stand violent sports and I never watch them but I did feel the lifetime ban was more political than anything else.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Matt for always helping me open my mind and expand my thoughts. Like many in our field, I wrestle back and forth between “off with his head” and “that person needs serious help.” Does it matter if it’s a cleat to the face or a punch in the face? Does it matter if it’s premeditated? Against a woman? A man? A child? At a sporting event? At a school? On the street? Is it a person’s upbringing? Is it a chemical imbalance? Is it a personality disorder? There are so many questions, so many possibilities but very few options or methods to help those who deeply need it for the proper length of time or to receive treatment, whatever that may look like. Is there any one person or group to blame? Are there people or groups that can get a movement started to help people with mental, emotional, medical, economic, and/or racial issues? YOU BET! Are they working for us as a society? NOPE, not even close. Do most of us just sit back and do the best that we can? I know I do! Do some try to start a movement to only stop after all the red tape and excessive processes are thrown in their paths? I know I have. I am always asking myself and a few others, “why does it have to be so hard?” As a person who helps those in violent situations for a career and has been involved in domestic violence personally, the possibilities for assistance and life changing help are far and few between. Maybe if we help the ones who are committing the acts of violence MORE, the patterns and cycles can slowly decrease. From my favorite movie, Willy Wonka, “so shines a good deed in a weary world.”

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