Misunderstanding the Ray Rice Story



It is actually  misunderstanding the Janay Palmer story.  Ray Rice is the disgraced and now unemployed abuser of Janay Palmer, the victim.  The NFL, cable news intelligentsia, and others have now abused Ms. Palmer as well.

My first five years out of law school I spent in a small town law practice in Evergreen, Colorado.  Nothing surprised me more than the amount of spousal and child abuse common in Jefferson and Clear Creek counties.    After five years it was these impossibly hard emotional cases  that most motivated me to become a corporate lawyer.

There were many competing agendas in spousal abuse cases.  Judges typically hated these messy “he said/she said” cases.  Social services workers often spent court time explaining  their limited budgets  as excuses for awful outcomes.  One young lawyer who I faced in my last court case in Clear Creek was trying to build a practice in Georgetown to help support his mountain lifestyle.

It is easy to lose track of why you are in court.  Easy to become confused in facts most people would rather not talk about.  Easy for Vice-President Biden and others to pontificate on television about the Baltimore Ravens doing the right thing in firing Ray Rice. But only if you forget Janay Palmer, the victim.

Her husband who is coming off a bad season was set to make about $20 million dollars over the next three years. Rice is approaching the magic age of 30 when even the best running backs begin to lose their skills.  After a year away from the game he will never make anything close to the $20 million the Ravens and the NFL have now taken away.

So many competing agendas.  The NFL has a brand problem.  The commissioner has a potential career problem. The Ravens have a salary cap problem involving a running back in decline.  The cable news show have their daily ratings challenges.  Politicians have an election where women’s issues are in play.

Janay Palmer is in a challenged marriage with an abuser.  He may or may not abuse her again. That is the only agenda that matters.

Ray Rice may have socked away his prior earnings.  If he has, it is his separate property not Janay Palmer’s marital property.  He may have nothing.  Either way in her first year of marriage she will have very little claim on what fortune he has.  Now he has no income.

Abusers control their victims emotionally as we have heard over and over since the story broke.  But they also control their victims with money. The worst case for a victim of abuse is to be dependent on the abuser for money.

It is a very difficult issue that the NFL, the Ravens, Vice-President Biden, and CNN rushed right over.  It is why judges often struggle with putting an abuser in jail. This is not a “teaching moment” such as #bringbackourgirls or #ferguson.  Because unlike those teaching moments, help was available to these victims.

The NFL could have told Rice to suit up this weekend, but place all of his earnings this year into an irrevocable trust established for the sole benefit of Janay Palmer and her daughter.  It could have conditioned any future play on ongoing abuse counseling for the rest of his career.  It could have put the victims first and empowered Janay Palmer to make an independent decision about her and her family’s future as a wealthy woman in early 2015.

These shameful explanations from advocates and cable news anchors pitying Janay Palmer and explaining her actions as “typical” of abused women are beyond contempt.  Victims are individuals not props for a cause.  You have to listen to what they want as individuals.  You have to support them when they go back to the abuser and when they finally leave.  Ms. Palmer needs empowerment in unique circumstances, not pity.

But just as with so many of these cases in a non-celebrity environment, this case became about agendas.  It became about money, politics, and ratings.  And the victim was violated all over again and left in the most vulnerable position – dependent on an unemployed abuser.



  1. Hi John,

    My husband and I just had this discussion yesterday. He thinks that the NFL had no right applying new sanctions against Rice….that the Ravens are his employer, and they already applied sanctions to him for his actions – a moderate, few game suspension.
    I, on the otherhand, think that based on his level of celebrity as a public figure, he should of had a penalty that was more harsh than what the Ravens originally handed out.
    Rice makes a huge amount of money to play a game and to be a public figure. I truly believe that as an athlete put into that position, there is a trade-off for the monetary compensation he receives. By accepting the salary to play a game in public, he is also held to a higher standard, made an example of what kids strive to attain by working hard and training. This puts him in the position of being looked up to by the youth of our country, and as such, he should be completely aware that his actions, both on and off the field, will be scrutinized. It’s all part of being a public figure.
    My husband did bring around a point, where he stated that his fiance was hitting him. What was he to do? Agreed, there were several other options available to him other than knocking her out cold. I for one, believe the doors of domestic violence swing both ways, and that women can be just as guilty of crimes against their spouse.
    But, I suppose my question is – would the country be the same amount of “up in arms” if SHE knocked HIM out? Clearly, they were both hitting each other in the video.

    • Jackie, thanks for the comment. I too am not sure we want employers substituting their judgement for the courts – I’m not sure where that ends. Here I think you see the result of employer involvement – they don’t care about Ms. Palmer. They care about their brand reputations and getting out from under a rich contract.

      We teach our kids that they ought to admire great people, not athletes. But I think you are right that the reality is that these superstars are role models regardless of what parents try to instill in their families.

      I doubt we would be upset if she had knocked him out, but the bottom line in my view is that if you are bigger than the person you are about to hit, then you can’t hit them. Violence is never a good answer, but particularly so when you have a physical advantage. Rice was not under any kind of real threat – he should have gone downstairs and cooled off.

      I have seen cases where women hit men, but I still think that doesn’t justify the man hitting back.

      The key thing right now is to support Ms. Palmer and the NFL, the Ravens, cable news, the VP, and a lot of talking head advocates are not doing that. They are either pitying her or trashing her while leaving her dependent on the abuser.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly that people care more about their agendas than they do about his wife. But it’s disingenuous to pretend that the crime he committed was simply hitting someone who’s physically smaller and weaker than him. If a smaller man had provoked and gotton physical with him, no one would be so up in arms about this…especially because the knockout wasn’t caused by the strength of the punch, but rather by the victim falling and hitting her head on the railing.

    The outrage doesn’t have anything to do with an imaginary social taboo against hitting someone who’s physically weaker- the taboo is against hitting a woman. More specifically- the taboo is against a man hitting a woman for any reason whatsoever. Regardless of the circumstances, a woman can hit another women who is smaller than her, or hit own dependent child, with little chance of receiving the kind of penalties and automatic social condemnation that a man would receive for hitting a woman. This doubly true of the female throwing a punch or slap was verbally or physically provoked. Let’s call a spade a spade, and identify the double standard for what it is.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here