I took some time before stepping into the Ray Rice fray. I think it’s quite unfortunate how we have viewed this incident and how we (i.e. Society) have victimized Janay Rice, against her will. Let me be clear: I do not condone what we saw in the video, and I do not make any excuses for Ray Rice.
Yet, in Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus describes a servant who owed a large sum. His master forgives the debt and send him on his way. But, when the servant leaves he finds someone who owes him money. Forgetting the forgiveness he had just received, he grabs his fellow servant around the neck and demands that servant pay what he owes.
Many times, we are like that servant who has forgotten all the Master has forgiven us. We may have found ourselves pleading with God to forgive us…to have mercy on us…to deliver us. We have had those “woe is me” moments, where we cry out for help because of something we may have done. Yet once that moment is gone, and we’ve received the forgiveness we were looking for, we forget and can’t wait to get our hands around the neck of our brothers and sisters, demanding they pay the full amount for their wrongdoing.
Now, I’m not going down the road of how we should forgive Ray Rice – as Janay Rice has forgiven him. Nor am I venturing the way of how it is Society that makes her a victim, although she herself has decided that she isn’t one.
Rather, the Ray Rice incident has peeled back the onion layer of domestic violence and sexual assault the runs rampant in the NFL.
It makes us feel good to have a boogie man to point fingers at. Anything that allows us to pass the buck and escape our own conviction, right? The NFL wanted to point fingers at Ray Rice, pretending that his was an isolated incident. Yet the firestorm erupted and made it clear that across the league, in every division of the NFL, there are incidents of players being abusive. The NFL couldn’t avoid the discussion any longer. League Commissioner, Roger Goodell finally had to come before the media and announce a new player conduct policy.
Yet, Society wants to point fingers at the NFL. This is a problem for the NFL and not the community at large. Someone has to be the “fall guy” so we can continue to feel good about ourselves, throwing stones while living in glass houses.
I don’t want to blame the NFL for the Ray Rice situation. Nor do I want to blame the players for the NFL’s predicament. Rather, I want us to consider some things as we look at the root causes for domestic violence in our Society.
I will say this: I think the NFL is indeed tied to the predicament. Yet, as much as the NFL may have influenced culture, our culture has brought the NFL to prominence.
I watch football. I played football. I was an All Star on two Varsity Territorial Championship teams in the Virgin Islands and one Junior Varsity Championship team. And, I was violent on the field. Yet, I only played football because I was an athlete and was good. My sport, however, was and is baseball.
It’s ironic, if you consider American Society, we have changed dramatically as baseball has declined and football has arisen. As more and more people have taken to football, our Society has become increasingly disconnected, angry and violent. But football has only arisen because our Society prefers the violence of the game. Baseball is too slow. Baseball has no hitting…no contact. Even basketball has hard hitting, yet we miss the “glory days” of the game when power forwards and centers defended the paint with violent authority.
Now, I’m not saying the only hope for our Society is to abandon the NFL. Yet, I am asking you to see the connection between the sport we love and the culture we have. Then, if you are honest enough to recognize that, I am hoping we can look at reviewing our perspectives of the game.
The antagonism between opponents has a direct relationship on our interpersonal relationships. We love a game where the goal is to crush your opponent and step on their necks. When each side (offense or defense) lines up opposite their opponent, their goal is to “punch them in the mouth.” That is the very words coaches and commentators use! The defense wants to punch them in the mouth. The running game (and Ray Rice is a running back) is used to punch the defense in the mouth. And the slugfest continues for four quarters.
Even within a team, that violence is prevalent. During training camp and in practices, that violence between offense and defense is the means by which players gain the respect of their teammates. Leadership in the locker room generally rests on that one who is both feared and loved – with fear generally coming first. It is usually the same for our relationships.
Can we take the love of violence out of the game, while preserving the game’s integrity? Can we remove intimidation from our relationships, while preserving love and respect? If so, how do we strip the game of that “philosophy of violence?”
It reminds me of the movie, Gladiator. Remember: Maximus (Russell Crowe) has this amazingly brutal match with a renowned opponent. Once he had defeated this opponent, the crowd chants: “Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill!”
Society wants blood. And, the league commissioner (i.e. the Emperor) gives them the blood they desire. He gives the sign for Maximus to kill and the crowd goes wild. But at that moment, Maximus realizes he has the power to change the people’s perspective. He drops his weapon and lets his opponent live. The crowd is silent…unable to determine how they should feel, having been denied the bloody violence they crave. Then one brave spectator shouts: “Maximus the Merciful!” The rest of the arena is now comfortable to embrace this changed perspective and they erupt in applause. So begins the changing of culture.
What does that moment look like for our situation? How do we begin to see the game differently and thus begin to change our culture?
The violence we’ve seen in the Ray Rice situation is not exclusive to the NFL. It is part of our culture. But there must be a better way, right?
Everyone should be Playing for a Championship Love. But to do so, we must not simply look for a scape goat for all that’s wrong in Society and just point fingers. Rather, we should look at the connectivity between the things we see out there (in Society) and those things we see in ourselves. Only then can we change the game into something that is actually worth playing.
The game needs to change. And not just the game we see on TV or between the chalk lines of the football field. The game of human relationships desperately needs to change – Ray Rice and the NFL has made this clear. So let’s get to work on changing the game and changing our culture, so that we can all have our own “Championship Love.”