I came close to writing about the latest disturbing turn in the Ray Rice affair—the fact that the Baltimore Ravens star’s ugly domestic abuse, caught on a hotel elevator camera, was recently deemed to warrant only a two game suspension by the NFL. I think this is a fairly accurate representation of how seriously that league and a segment of the professional sports culture take the problem of domestic abuse—wait until you hear all the cheers for Rice in his first day back on the field—but I had already registered my disgust at Rice’s lack of sufficient punishment for this incident. Then ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith was pilloried by female pundits for daring to suggest that the victims of domestic abuse sometimes share responsibility for what happens to them, and need to take action to prevent further beatings. ESPN colleague Michelle Beadle, noting that she was once in an abusive relationship, erupted in indignation, saying she “would never feel clean again” after taking reading Smith’s comments, and wrote,”I’m thinking about wearing a miniskirt this weekend…I’d hate to think what I’d be asking for by doing so… “Violence isn’t the victim’s issue. It’s the abuser’s. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting. Walk. Away.”
Of course, other pundits, websites and blogs followed Beadle’s lead—did you know there’s a war on women?—because you just don’t dare get on the wrong side of this kind of issue. The problem is that in the context of the Ray Rice episode, Smith was making a valid point that is made too seldom because of The Beadle Rule, that women who are abused share no responsibility for their fate, and to even suggest otherwise is proof positive of misogyny. That is a politically correct lie, and Smith should not be attacked for telling the truth, albeit inarticulately.
The core of his commentary was this:
“We keep talking about the guys. We know you have no business putting your hands on a woman…But what I’ve tried to employ [?] the female members of my family…and this what, I’ve done this all my life,‘Let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions.’ Because if I come, or somebody else comes, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know, if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you. So let’s try to make sure that we can do our part in making sure that doesn’t happen.”
I think, despite his garbled misuse of “provocation,”which is what Beadle jumped on—he also apparently doesn’t know what “employ” means— Smith’s point is clear: “Women: don’t stay with men who beat you up, because , among other things, they are likely to do so again.” That is true. That is an important, indeed life saving point. It does not deserve to be pigeon-holed with unconscionable “she wore a tight skirt so she was asking to be raped” arguments, as Beadle, in a cheap shot, suggested.
The reason why this is so clear arises from the facts of the Rice case and its aftermath. The football star was arrested at an Atlantic City casino in February for punching his fiancée Janay Palmer, and knocking her cold. Video showed Rice dragging Palmer’s unconscious body out of an elevator, and police have footage of the incident itself. A couple months later, the happy couple were married.
Well, good luck, Janay. In my view, a professional athlete, or any man, who beats his fiancée into unconsciousness once has engaged in unethical conduct that represents signature significance, and obviously so. He can’t be trusted by his victim, and will never be trustworthy. Yes, yes, Rice is mouthing all the right statements about being a new man. This was in February, remember. His victim married him anyway (“Can’t help lovin’ that man of mine!”) in the Spring. If Rice beats her again, and the odds, behavioral science and domestic abuse experts say that he probably will, Janay Palmer shares some of the responsibility for her own plight. Of course she does! She shouldn’t have married him. It was idiotic to do so, reckless and self-destructive. I can offer this rule as an absolute with no hesitation at all: if your intended cold-cocks you in an elevator, ever, for any reason, press charges, have him arrested, and get out of the relationship, because if you don’t, you are 1) enabling and excusing an abuser and 2) placing your health and perhaps life at risk.
And if you are a celebrity (Hello, Rihanna!) or in a relationship with one, the lesson you are teaching young women just might get them killed some day.
Now Smith is in full-grovel mode, apologizing and essentially giving up the field, while allowing Beadle to score political correctness points and let Jany off the hook. He is right to say “I should have done a better job articulating my thoughts,” but Smith is usually more loud and vernacular than articulate: he articulated them well enough for anyone willing to listen to what he was trying to say. (Suggestion to Stephen: Don’t use Twitter as the Medium on which to discuss sensitive and complex issues.) Beadle is the one who should apologize, and prospectively, for all the women who, like Janay, will stay with their abusers with the predictable results.