JANAY RICE & RAY RICE
Karen Kaufman is an independent film producer and executive in Hollywood. I’ve know her for twenty-five years. I met her when she was an account exec in DC radio, and I was putting records on the radio that made a difference. She’s come up in several media businesses, but she’s football people. Her daddy coached several top tier high school, college and NFL running backs – John Riggins and Barry Sanders are two of his former players who are enshrined in Canton – and he caught a couple of rings with the San Francisco 49ers when they were the class of the sporting world. Her first husband was a starting linebacker for Joe Gibbs when he was the head coach of the Washington Redskins, and they went to a few Super Bowls when they were together. The world of professional football formed her.
Like anyone who else has seen it, the videotape of Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice hitting his wife with a short, hard jab, knocking her out, and then nudging her with his foot, shocked Karen. She thought about it, discussed it with me, and consented to share her understanding of what it was like to be a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of an NFL warrior who she was married to. She also wondered what Janay Rice has been thinking. In the form of an open letter, here are her thoughts and questions.
We’ve never met, and I don’t think we have any friends in common. Before this year, I’d never heard of you, and until recently, hadn’t seen a picture of you either. Because of these facts, I have struggled with my decision to write you, as I can only imagine the barrage of emails, phone calls and texts you are receiving during this time. But our stories are so entwined I felt I had to reach out to you.
Based on the little that I have seen, I have to let you know that I am disappointed in you.
I’m not supposed to feel this way. As an educated Black woman who was once married to a Washington Redskin during one of their glory periods and a daughter of an NFL running back coach, whose running backs are Hall of Famers, I’m supposed to be compassionate and supportive of your situation. I’m trying hard to get there but I have to get past my disappointment first.
Please know that I write this letter to you from a place of understanding. The situation you are, in as an NFL wife, is a special fishbowl. Growing up, I spent an inordinate amount of discussing and watching football as well as attending games. For my family, sports was not recreational, it was the business that allowed my parents to feed, clothe, educate and care for me. Winning or losing resulted in harsh public scrutiny, and then a fast round of packing and a move to another city; but it didn’t seem odd to me as it was the only normal I ever knew. This gave me a false sense that I was prepared to be married to a professional football player but I was very wrong. I found being a wife of a player is significantly different from being the daughter of a coach. As a coach’s daughter, there is a veil of protection that doesn’t exist with a player’s wife. As a player’s wife, nothing stands between you and the front office, coaches, agents, lawyers, financial advisers, media, other players’ wives and the never ending parade of groupies. I think one of the hardest lessons I had to learn during my time as a NFL wife was this: People are gunning for you. And I what I truly didn’t comphrend is that your own husband can gun for you also.
You know what I mean don’t you? Cuz you know Ray was gunning for you even if he had done something that made you push and spit at him. My guess is that it was another woman because I have acted close to the same way when I learned of yet another woman. My guess is Ray has been wanting to vent for a long time so I don’t think that punch was all for you; it may have been because he was racially profiled when he was pulled over for driving a $150,000 Benz, while listening to his agent explain why the Ravens wouldn’t give him $100 million dollar contract like J.J. Watt, or the nagging shoulder injury that he is trying to mask during practice, or the 100th request for money from another distant “cousin”. He wasn’t just pissed at you; life as a professional athlete is stressful and you became an easy target for him to take it out on.
Yet, you chose to stay with him, and in fact, chose to marry him after he cold clocked you. You see why I might be a little disappointed? I wanted you to leave right then because like Rihanna going back to Chris Brown; you sent a dangerous message to young women. Though you may not want to see yourself as a role model, the moment you choose to be with a high profile athlete you became a celebrity and your actions were open to public opinion. Because too whom much is given, much is required. As the ink dried on Ray’s contract, we had 22 million reasons to care about your life.
But I understand that leaving a man you love is hard, particularly when there are children involved. Though I didn’t have children with my ex husband, I agonized for years before I left and it took his becoming physical for me to end it. My ex and I were college sweethearts and since my father had been coaching in the NFL for several years, I was pretty damn good at spotting talent. And there was nothing about him that looked liked pro material as he was too small, had an exciting but not spectacular college career at a small California state school (whose games were rarely aired on TV) and he was a walk on.
Honestly, because he was an undrafted free agent, I didn’t think he would make the team and we already had planned that he would become a social worker after graduation. I naïvely assured him, “Don’t worry because I’m going to make a lot of money.” Boy did things take a turn in training camp after the starting linebacker was hurt and my ex replaced him. The whirlwind became a personal hurricane as he went on to start in three Super Bowls in five years. With this success came the usual perks of a beautiful home, cars, jewelry, furs, travel and aaah the women. The women were bountiful especially in a city like Washington DC with a ratio of 8 women to one man.
Some described me as a mature 24 year old but I felt like a cat on a hot tin roof…if I jump here will he smile? If I jump here will he not fuck some chick when I’m in the next room? If I jump will he talk to me? As time went on I got tired of jumping. But we know in the NFL code that infidelity is not a reason to end a marriage; it’s more of an occupational hazard. Even though I did my best to ignore his antics, he didn’t bother to be discreet. Why should he? The cat keeps jumping.
One night after finding condoms in his wallet (not meant for me), I told him I was relieved he was using protection. He snapped, grabbed me by the shoulders and threw me against the wall of our three story suburban home. As my back slammed against the wall, I knew I was in deep trouble because I was no match for a guy who was 6ft 3in, 225lbs with 5% body fat, and had grown up in the ‘hood’ in Los Angeles. I was 5ft 6in, 125lbs, and had lived a very sheltered upper middle class life in the San Fernando Valley, and never had a physical exchange with anyone. I thought to myself was, “This doesn’t happen to people like me”
When my ex threw me against the second wall, I realized, that when the police arrived they would never believe me, and that we would be on the cover of the sports section of the Washington Post. I tried to fight back but my weak efforts only resulted in small cut on his cheek. Afterwards, he apologized because he never meant to hurt me.
But I didn’t believe him. No different than Ray…I wasn’t the only person he was mad at. He was mad that his career was ending, never making All Pro and he had suitcases full of childhood pain. But that night, at that moment, like you, I was his target.
Did that come to your mind when he hit you? Or have you been watching this all of your life so you thought this is what love looks like? These are the questions that make me soften my view of your decisions, because I don’t know how you got here. Some experts say we have to stop asking why women stay in abusive relationships and replace it with why do men hit women? My thoughts about that will come later in this letter but for now let’s just say, I’m still disappointed with your decision.
Just a year before my incident, I had consoled another player’s wife whose husband had beaten her at her children’s school. She’d smarted off to him and then tried to run. Bless her heart, did she think he became a great defensive end without speed? Anyway he beat her in front of her children but she didn’t want to leave because she loved the money and didn’t want to work. I didn’t feel that way; I wanted a career so losing the money didn’t factor into my decision to pack my things. But if I was really honest, I left because I found that my behavior was mimicking the actions of my mother who is an undiagnosed manic depressant with a little personality disorder to boot. Basically I was raised by a crazy woman and being married to a celebrity triggered my inner crazy (and all this time I thought I was just creative). I had to leave to save my soul.
Don’t you want your soul back? Don’t you want to stop excusing his behavior? Have you planned the speech you will give your daughter when she sees the video? Back in my sports days, there was no internet, no cell phones, no Instagram, no Facebook or TMZ. Yet, reputable outlets like the Washington Post or Sports Illustrated longed for a juicy story but being in a three ring circus didn’t interest me.
I know leaving a man you love isn’t easy and my situation was less complicated than yours because we had no children. With access to a fat checking account and great credit, the physical move to my high rise upper Northwest apartment only required a phone call to the movers. For the sake of keeping appearances, our separation was kept a secret. I am grateful I wasn’t like many women who don’t have the resources to leave their Hell.
Now let’s get to the part that I’m really mad about.
Why are you fussing at us and the media for your downfall? What made you think we wouldn’t find out the whole story? Yes, I wish you hadn’t married that jerk but if you chose to go forth in this charade of sorts dammit …you should have spun it better! Why didn’t you fly to LA, and pay Howard Bragman $25,000 to fool us? Howard Bragman would have made your first press conference look like an episode of Oprah with Ray crying huge crocodile tears while he apologized for his insane, and inhumane behavior. Then you could have announced that you were committed to raising awareness of the fact that domestic violence effects all economic classes. A few months later, you would have been pictured donating a home to help women who don’t have the financial means of getting out. Yet, you and the NFL somehow thought you were immune to this tape getting released. Now Ray is out of work indefinitely, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell might be joining him. This blatant short sideness feels arrogant and assumes that your fans and public will believe anything. Between Jay Z, Solange, and Queen B coupled with Donald Sterling, and the death of Michael Brown, don’t you see social media is exposing the good, the bad and the ugly?
I’m feeling less angry now. Thank you for letting me vent.
Your public incident has raised a lot of opinions about domestic abuse and some say that the question has to change from “Why did she stay?” to “Why did he hit her?” I’m not sure that this is true because the older I get the more I realize how I feel about myself affects everything that happens to me. One of the many important influences which introduced me to the idea of self importance was Pearl Cleage’s Mad at Miles: A Black Woman’s Guide to Truth. I read the book long after my divorce when I was working on the film, Sugar Hill in New York. My dear friend, the insideplaya arranged for me to stay with a generous female friend of his, in Harlem while I worked on the film. At a Black book store where the shop owner was surprised by how many books I hadn’t read, she introduced me to Cleage and it changed my life. Cleage talks about how Miles Davis’ openly admits he beat Cicely Tyson and she suggests to women that we stop financially supporting artists who harm women. If we closed our pocketbooks to their albums, movies, paintings…then we could put them out of business. I felt like someone dunked my head in cold water as I had never even conceived of the idea that I had power. I’m not sure if it’s important why a man hits a woman but, I’m sure that it’s important to ask, what will we do about it? Will we stand up and say “Help me please get out of this because I deserve to be treated better!” or will we shrink into silent denial believing that we are unworthy. As mothers, you and I owe it to our children to teach them that they have value.
My son is 9 years-old and he is an athletic stand out in our predominately White area. He often dominates in strength, size and has the uncanny knack to anticipate an opponent’s move. It is both disturbing and rewarding to see the amount of attention showered on him, so my husband and I have made it clear that we expect him to act like a man of honor. Because to whom much is given, much is required. After much contemplation, I showed him the footage that captured when you were hit, and his first question was, “Why did she marry him after he hit her?” Then as his anger grew he insisted, “This is no way for a Black man to act.” I held back tears. He’s right; it was no way for a Black man to act.
So now what will you do? How will you live with your angry frustrated ex player of a husband. Not playing for the rest of the season and possibly never playing again will only elevate his anger and let’s pray you won’t be his target. Until then, I hope you will be safe but as you struggle with this whirlwind of drama, please check out Pearl Cleage as she may help you tap into your courage. Because no woman deserves to be beaten and until we understand that if we don’t close our pocketbooks (and legs) to those who harm us, this cycle will continue.