After a torturous 7 month off-season, the NFL finally returned this weekend. I absolutely love football! College football will always be my first love, but, thanks exclusively to my obsession with fantasy football, I now follow the NFL with a keen eye.
Sadly, after an amazing opening weekend of NFL action, nobody is really talking about the games. Today, tmz.com released bone-chiling video footage of Ray Rice, now-terminated Baltimore Ravens running back, hitting his then-fiancee with a vicious left cross in an Atlantic City casino elevator. The devastating blow knocked Rice’s fiancee unconscious.
Rice’s domestic violence case isn’t really news. Rice assaulted Janay Palmer (now Janay Rice) on February 15. Initially, both Rice and Palmer were charged with simple assault. The charge against Palmer was later dropped. In March, Rice was indicted by a grand jury on the charge of third-degree assault, a significantly more serious charge. Rice entered a program for first-time offenders in May. The program will clear his record of the criminal charges if he meets certain conditions, including participating in counseling.
Ironically, after Rice’s conviction, he and Janay married. The couple held a joint press conference in May where Rice apologized and Janay said the incident was partly her fault. As you might suspect, domestic abuse counselors responded strongly to her statements, saying that physical abuse is never warranted.
From there, a comedy of errors ensued by the NFL front office. On July 24, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell pronounced a two-game suspension for Rice. In the aftermath of that announcement, Goodell came under significant fire for not issuing a more significant penalty. In response to the criticism, the NFL introduced new standardized penalties for domestic violence on August 28. Those penalties include a six-game suspension for a first offense of domestic violence and an indefinite suspension of at least one year for a second offense. In fact, Goodell issued a public apology, admitting, “I didn’t get it right.”
The entire situation, which seemed to have died down from a public relations standpoint, exploded again today with the revelation from tmz.com. They acquired and released the video footage from within the casino elevator when the sickening assault happened.
[WARNING: the video below is graphic and disturbing.]
As of this moment, the Baltimore Ravens, who have stood by Rice throughout this situation, have terminated his 5 year/$35,000,000 contract. Rice was scheduled to earn over $8 million this year. He will be hard-pressed to find another team that will take a chance on him. Sadly, this may have more to do with his diminishing skills than his lack of ethics.
Rice hasn’t only lost his job, but he’s lost the respect and support of many other NFL players. Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton tweeted, “This video makes me sick to my stomach.” Former all-pro NFL center, LeCharles Bentley tweeted, “He could’ve killed that girl. They need to sports science the force of that punch. NFL players are STRONG… Like very strong.” Many other tweets went out. Few of them were ones I would quote because of the use of expletives. They almost unanimously denounce Rice and his behavior.
Sadly, domestic violence doesn’t just happen in casino elevators with professional athletes. One in four women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime. Domestic violence accounts for 21% of all violent crime. Up to 20% of all children in the United States see abuse of a parent or caregiver every year. As a result, these children are more likely to experience neglect or abuse, less likely to succeed at school, have poor problem-solving skills, subject to higher incidence of emotional and behavioral problems, and more likely to tolerate violence in their adult relationships. Over 1.75 million workdays are lost each year due to domestic violence. Coupling the lost employment time with increased health and safety costs, domestic violence costs our country $3 to $5 billion annually. To our shame, domestic violence is a plague upon our society.
In Old Testament times, the prophet Jeremiah warned the religious leaders of his day who were minimizing abuse and oppression:
“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 8:11-12).
Modern Christians do well to consider Jeremiah’s warning. We cannot stand idly by, pretending things are peaceful, when the reality is one of abuse. We cannot forget how to blush in the face of domestic violence. Christians must remind a fallen world of God’s standards – especially concerning issues like domestic violence.
Christians acknowledge that God has established the home. In the home, the man is to be the head, or authority, of his household (Ephesians 5:23; 1 Peter 3:1). Husbands are commanded to love their wives and to treat them gently (Colossians 3:19). A faithful husband will love his wife even as he loves his own body (Ephesians 5:29). Fathers should lovingly discipline their children, but always being careful not to exasperate them (Colossians 3:21). God’s standard for the home is so important that churches should only consider men for leaders who have led their families well (1 Timothy 3:4). This picture is an overview of what God expects in the Christian home.
When God’s standard breaks down and abuse erupts in the home, the church must move definitively to protect the weak. If a woman is being abused, the church should seek to protect her. By God’s grace, He may bring repentance and restoration into the brokenness of an abusive home. Until that time comes, the church has the responsibility to embody Psalm 9:9: “The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”
I can still vividly remember a moment over a decade ago where I was called to a home where chaos and abuse were rumored. I was called there by a friend of a the lady (who had been visiting our church). I arrived only moments after the local authorities. The situation was complicated by the abusive husband’s job: he was police officer. I tried to help the distraught woman and her children as the authorities stood at a distance, whispering among themselves. I gather clothing that had been scattered across the yard, tried to comfort a small child, and prayed earnestly that God would give me wisdom. Honestly, I was completely overwhelmed by the situation. I didn’t have the right words to say. I didn’t even know where to begin. Through the help of a sister in Christ, we were able to remove the woman from the situation. It wasn’t long until I relocated from that community. I don’t know how that situation turned out. I doubt it went very well.
I have often wondered what more I could have done for that distraught lady. I know I didn’t say the right things. I doubt I appeared very brave. The best I can say is that I showed up. And maybe that is worth something. For too long the church has stuck its head in the sand while domestic violence happens right under our nose.
The notoriety of Ray Rice’s case probably won’t die down anytime soon. The video is simply too sickening to go away quickly or quietly. Hopefully, it will bring domestic violence into the light. There will be calls for government agencies, pleas for more funding, and legislative attempts for stricter laws. All of these may be part of the solution. But my prayer is that the church will be on the forefront of this battle line, defending God’s model for family and rescuing victims who are physically and emotionally battered. No other organization has the Words of Life that the hurting and abused desperately need. It’s time for the church to show up and speak up and love well. The church is always at her best when she is loving like Christ loves.