Janay Rice, Domestic Violence in the NFL, and Black Women’s Bodies

By Jamilah King Sep 08, 2014

Update at 3:46 EDT

CNN is reporting that the Baltimore Ravens have cut Ray Rice. He’s also been suspended indefinitely by the NFL.


This morning TMZ leaked video (warning: it’s extremely graphic) of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice brutally assaulting his then-fiancée (now wife) Janay Rice in an Atlantic City elevator. The assault happened last February and only part of it — showing Rice dragging his partner’s unconscious body out of the elevator — was leaked publicly before he was suspended two games by NFL commissioner Roger Goddell.

Goddell has already responded to criticism that he was too lenient with Rice’s suspension. He’s announced new, harsher punishment for domestic violence in the future. He also said that he hadn’t seen this latest video before TMZ published it on Monday. But, as Yahoo! Sports’ Eric Endholm writes, that’s suspicious:

The NFL issued a statement Monday morning that no one in its offices saw the TMZ video until this morning, along with the rest of us. If that’s indeed the case — and it’s a stretch of the imagination to think that’s the case — why was TMZ able to get its hands on the video but the league was not? And if the league did not try, why not? The police certainly saw it. The NFL, if it did not, most certainly should have sought to.

The new video is the missing part of the puzzle that shows what happened inside of the elevator: Rice punched Palmer in the face so violently that she hit her head on an elevator railing and lost consciousness. 

Domestic violence was one of our five racial justice issues to watch this NFL season, and for good reason. More than anyone, Goddell knows that his initial punishment of Rice is bad for business; the league’s marketing to women has exploded in recent years. He’ll undoubtedly have to revisit Rice’s case, and there are others that are still playing out. Ray McDonald, a defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers, was arrested on domestic violence charges but was still allowed to play in Sunday’s opening game in Dallas. So far, the league’s stated intentions haven’t matched up with its actions.

In the most prominent cases, it’s been black women’s brutalized bodies that have become symbols of the league’s problem with domestic violence. And this video is particularly difficult to watch. I can’t help but think about how Palmer’s assault is being replayed over and over again. TMZ’s decision to leak it probably does mean that there will be some sort of personal and institutional accountability for Ray Race and the NFL. But it’s brutal nonetheless, and shameful that it takes this to call attention to domestic violence.