It shocks some people who don’t know me well, but I am a huge professional sports fan. MLB, NBA, NFL, and even NHL (at least during the playoffs) – I follow it all. Perhaps “follow” is not a strong enough term – I obsess. I keep up with the beat writers on Twitter. I participate in sports messaging boards. When “my” teams are playing, I refuse to watch with other people, because I can’t stand their idle chitchat. Friends know that if my team loses, messages either heckling or consoling me are unwelcome. I am an admittedly sore loser.
As a female football fan, seeing the events surrounding Ray Rice’s assault on his now-wife Janay Palmer Rice and his initially light punishment forced me to ask myself some uncomfortable questions. How much do I contribute to the problems of violence in society by cheering on an extremely violent sport? Why do I support an organization – the NFL – that so obviously cares little about me and other women?
I’m not sure what I expected to see when I watched the video TMZ released yesterday of the actual attack. What I definitely recognized, though, was a bit of myself, because another fact about me that may shock folks is that I was in an abusive relationship for several years.
I have never been hit across the face, but I have been shoved to the ground. I have been dragged across the floor and then screamed at afterwards that it was my fault. And I apologized. I begged for forgiveness. And the entire time I was doing it, I was ashamed of myself. I almost couldn’t believe it, because I’d always thought I was too Fucking Smart to ever let something like that happen to me.
I actually began writing these thoughts out before Janay Rice’s statement was released today along with the ensuing “#WhyIStayed” and “#WhyILeft” Tweets filling up Twitter. I have already heard friends of mine calling her a “moron” and laughing at how ridiculous she sounds for “blaming the media.” I am not surprised. Even some of my closest friends, who know my past, will speak derisively of women in abusive relationships. The most common question people ask is, “How could you stay with someone like that?” Even if people don’t say it, they’re usually thinking it. Although we strive for empathy, perhaps this is one of those situations that is impossible to truly understand unless you’ve been through it.
When the person you love tells you that you are so ugly and fat that the very sight of you makes him want to vomit but plans an elaborate Valentine’s Day dinner weeks later, two plus two no longer equals four. When your boyfriend refuses to speak to you unless you agree to smoke marijuana, knowing it is something you do not want to do, your moral compass starts to point in another direction. Being fucking smart means absolutely nothing.
“Why I Stayed” is supposed to have an uplifting “Why I Left” rejoinder. I wish I could tell you that I wised up and magically gained some self respect, but the truth is, he left me. I don’t know if I can honestly say whether I would have ever left him, but I Hope so. I hope.
For those of you who were strong enough to leave at the first sign of abuse, I applaud you. For those of you who insist you would do the same, my sincere wish is that you will never undergo this test. For those of you who, like Janay Rice, continue to stay, I pray for your emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.