Ray Rice, the running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was arrested and charged with “simple assault charges” along with his now wife Janay Rice. This incident was described as a small altercation between the couple. Then days later footage was released by TMZ showing what actually happened during the incident which was Ray Rice dragging his wife’s body out of the hotel elevator. Months later after controversial responses by the National Football League(NFL), a full video of the elevator incident was released and it showed a very different story. Ray rice had hit his then Fiancée so hard she went unconscious. Only after this last video was released did Rice get suspended indefinitely from the NFL. He then fought for an appeal and won so now he is eligible to sign with any team and continue to play. The NFL now is starting to take way more action against any domestic violence issue when it comes to their employees and athletes. The NFL also donates millions of dollars to aid assault victims and those working to assist victims and their families.
Initially, the NFL let the Ravens deal with his minor arrest and charges without making any official statements or punishments. Then when the second video was released they felt it was time to release a statement explaining when the NFL became aware of the arrest. The NFL gave him a small penalty of being suspended for two games and Ray Rice apologized to the public about what had happened. The Raven’s even backed up Rice stating that after the suspension he would be back playing again in no time. When both videos of Rice surfaced showing his more aggravated assault being shown the NFL quickly terminated his contract and quickly started to figure out how to come back from this wildfire of problems.
They quickly decided to make some internal changes with their policies with players on and off the field. They also went on to make sure anyone who works for the NFL follows these same guidelines. The NFL created a program called “Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault 101”(Gibbs 2016). This program educated thousands in the league on what exactly happens to women and men relating to any type of domestic violence. They recruited experts on how to help the domestic violence community which started with the help of the National Domestic Violence Hotline that was being flooded with calls due to this incident. Anna Isaacson, which was newly appointed to her job as the Vice President of Social Responsibility, took her team around the United States in search for educational materials to help internally and externally. They spoke to hundreds of organizations and experts to find the most effective ways of dealing with their domestic violence issues. The NFL also invited local organizations to take part in these domestic violence education sessions. They felt it was better to educate than to continue with ignorance and misunderstandings. They first started out with a session that made the players automatically the aggressors and how there was only repercussions for said actions. After some complaint’s, they quickly changed their approach to using videos of survivors and aggressor’s testimonials. They then continued with open discussions that led to more of an understanding of what causes domestic violence. A few more critiques came from athletes trying to figure out how to report or what to even do after an issue arises. The National Football League Players Association took this issue upon their shoulders by developing trust between the association and the players. If they have any issues they come to them.
The NFL hoped to deal with the Ray Rice situation with as little attention as possible. They responded with minimal repercussions to what they thought was a minimal crime. Quickly, they understood the intensity of the situation after the two videos were released. They responded with indefinite suspension and the canceling of his contract to the Baltimore Ravens. After the mishandling of this situation, the public kind of lost respect for the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell. People called for his resignation after they did a press conference with Ray Rice which ended up having way more critique than appraisal. Roger Goodell then held a press conference that blamed ignorance on domestic violence issues as the problem and how he was “not satisfied with the way we handled [the Ray Rice situation] from the get-go” (Burke 2014). The NFL tried to change not only the way the public saw them but how the organization saw domestic violence. The implementation of education, donations and campaigns that say that domestic violence should not continue between anyone was how they were going to change their image. They then informed the public how they would hold separate investigations that involved FBI agents instead of local police agencies. They also kept the public up to date on what they were hoping to implement into their policies.
Roger Goodell came to the forefront to explain what had happened with the handling of this situation. He didn’t really start off with a good response the days after the incident but when more evidence came about he held another press conference explaining that all fault would fall on his shoulders. He continued to mention the steps they were going to take to fix their ignorant mistake.
The NFL did create a partnership with ThinkProgress and set up an initiative that will help change the internal policies in the league. The NFL also set up years of donations which was not only monetary but electronics, web servers, and furniture to the National Domestic Violence Hotline which helped them counteract the stress they were facing due to the Ray Rice Situation. The NFL also partnered with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to donate to an organization that was concentrated in Sexual Violence. Their million-dollar donation was spread to many anti rape coalitions that had also felt the wave of this situation due to swamped hotlines.
After years of ignoring previous domestic violence issues and giving Rice an easier punishment than players with drug offenses, they finally took a step in changing the infrastructure of the league and its idea on domestic violence.
The NFL has also taken part in a huge campaign called “No More.” This consists of celebrities, athletes and companies to create awareness of domestic violence misconceptions and how they will not continue with theses ideals. Top athletes in the league filmed and pledged to take a stance against domestic violence. This campaign has a social media hashtag and promotes for everyone to post a picture of themselves with a printable sign stating “No More” and to tag #NoMore when you post it anywhere on social media profiles. These public service announcements were played across the nation, during commercial breaks and during actual games. They played all the way up to the national championships and the NFL continues to participate in the “No More” campaign. Every Super Bowl that passes has a domestic violence PSA that shows the signs or how someone might be able to help those in need.
A big issue that played in this whole scandal was the fact that there were several videos released showing exactly what happened but the NFL was downplaying the situation before the complete video was released. They released statements stating that they didn’t know what happened at the time so they couldn’t hold him to more than the 2 game suspension. Then the final video was released of the aggressive assault on his then fiancée and the NFL had several different people saying different things. Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner, stated that he had not seen the video until it was released but law enforcement officers stated that they had given them all the evidence back when the incident happened. There has also been much controversy on whether Ray Rice actually told them all the information on the incident when they met with him. These issues were why the NFL received such a backlash not only from the public but celebrities and other athletes in the league.
The diffusion theory came to play in the case involving Ray Rice because it produced a social change throughout the NFL organization. The need for internal change came about which then creates a new outlook on domestic violence not only in the organization but to the players, their families and fans. This will finally say that this will stand no more.
The uses and gratification theory when it comes to mass media explains that people pick and choose the news or whatever they consume to their personal benefit. The NFL used this to promote their changes and additions to their existing policies. They promoted their donations and how they were assisting with domestic violence organizations because the people who support the NFL wanted to see action taken. As people saw the change taking place with their “No More” campaigns and their education policies being implemented to everyone involved within the league. The NFL has never had as much uproar about domestic violence issues than this case which called for change.
The NFL’s initial response was ignorant of the true situation at hand. The Ravens did fight for Ray Rice and defending his actions by backing up his character and reinforming the public that Ray Rice has only committed this crime once. This was a way to use media and the press to “frame” how they want the public to see Rice. Media Framing played a big role in this case because several sports networks and publications wanted to reassure that what he did was horrible but he isn’t a horrible person. They are disregarding the actual issue to make it seem like it was one small mistake. Sports news networks were trying to show the public that he deserved a second chance. They continued with a pretty controversial press conference that had his wife, Janay Rice, apologizing for her role in this violent situation. The NFL had good intentions with the public apology but the way they presented the information to the public thereafter was confusing and misleading. There were reports that the NFL had known what was on those tapes while they report they had only been told by Rice a small account of the incident. After all of this controversy, The NFL really did get into community relations which is defined as “undertaking activities within a community to maintain an environment that benefits both an organization and the community” (Wilcox 10). The NFL took part in assisting local domestic violence hotlines, recruiting experts to help educate the league as a whole, and donating millions to organizations who were in need due to the Ray Rice incident. The NFL also made sure to definitely go within the organization to change the ignorance on this issue that has been prevalent for years. They definitely educated their athletes and other employees after consulting with professionals.
The NFL organization started their response after the more aggressive videos were released was a bad idea because they were met with quite a lot of backlash with not just women across the world but celebrities started taking their stance on social media. The NFL was seen as just trying to appease their publics which is essentially what they wanted to do but this time they are continuing to give money to those organizations that support victims of domestic violence. They made it a mission to change the ignorance internally by continuing education on the matter. This was an extremely smart tactic to do because with an issue with this severity you need to address it and make deeper changes than just suspending one athlete for a period of time. This shows people that the organization will write off issues like these and this reinforces the idea that domestic violence is only a minor issue. The NFL has been ignorant to these issues in the past but with Ray Rice they almost fell into the same pattern. They initially suspended him for two games and then went into an indefinite suspension which ended in termination of his contract. This was only after the second tape of him actually knocking his wife unconscious came to the surface of social media. They also tried to do their own investigation stating that the justice system wasn’t doing what they needed in this investigation.
The public’s response was interesting because there was actually a lot of support for Rice when the Raven’s home opener began and many women had his jersey on. In Chris B. Geyerman’s article, The NFL’s “Violence Against Women Problem”: Media Framing and The Perpetuation of Domestic Abuse, he discusses what these women had to say for supporting Ray Rice.
“When interviewed, most of them indicated they supported Rice for two reasons: first, they believed that he was unjustly penalized when released by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely from NFL; second, most felt the situation with Ray and Janay was a personal matter (i.e., private) and not properly the province of public discourse” (Geyerman 116).
There was support for the Rice family, there was critique on the NFL response and there was anger at the Rice family as well. Local places in Baltimore were even taking a stance. A restaurant in the Baltimore area took to twitter to offer free food for those who wanted to trade in their Ray Rice jerseys.
The use of the “No More” campaign was extremely important for the NFL because this showed supporters that not all athletes will stand for this type of abuse. This also shows the way the NFL now sees this act of violence is no longer ignorable. This campaign also is important on expelling misconceptions that not only this male dominated league thought but what many people think to say when these type of issues arise just in daily life. The use of these athletes was extremely important because it catches fans attention. This creates a conversation on this issue not only within the league but worldwide. Along with scripted PSA’s this campaign released raw footage from the filming where the athletes had trouble starting the shoot. They were shown in vulnerable states. The idea was to explain that this issue is hard for everyone to talk about and showing that these hyper masculine males had issues talking about it for this campaign just goes to show how painful these issues are. These also touched on the stigma that silence is a key component on why these issues continue. These outtakes showed that these issues are not taken lightly and that these athletes are affected by the pain that women and men go through when it comes down to domestic violence. These athletes were the beginning of a conversation that needed to be had. The NFL continues to implement prevention programs and use PSA’s to show the dangers and signs which anyone can partake in to prevent. This organization hoped to bring about awareness and cultural change but they definitely reinforced that this cannot happen over a year.
Another problem that was critiqued was the fact that Ray Rice avoided trial by attending prevention classes and then fought for his place back in the NFL. He appealed his suspension which he won and it granted him permission to continue to play in the NFL of any team of his choice. This kind of reinforced the idea that you can’t really lose much when you commit this type of crime. His wife continued on to marry Ray and he still got to keep his job whether or not any teams pick him back up.
Overall, this situation was mishandled between the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens. They felt the heat from other athletes, media, football fans and even political figures. These issues will not be ignored any longer and they have taken quite a few steps in the right direction.
Johnson, V. E. (2016). “Together, We Make Football”: The NFL’s “feminine” discourses. Popular Communication, 14(1), 12-20. doi:10.1080/15405702.2015.1084622
Cascio, P. (2016). Communication theoretical implications of the Ray Rice controversy. Cogent Arts & Humanities, 3(1). doi:10.1080/23311983.2016.1194247
Gibbs, L. (2016, October 24). After Ray Rice, The NFL Pledged Millions To Fight Domestic Violence. Retrieved February 01, 2017, from https://thinkprogress.org/after-ray-rice-the-nfl-pledged-millions-to-fight-domestic-violence-heres-how-the-money-was-spent-bd18a1777200#.rx0895o26
Burke, C. (2014, September 19). Goodell calls for action, sidesteps details in press conference. Retrieved February 05, 2017, from http://www.si.com/nfl/2014/09/19/roger-goodell-nfl-domestic-violence-press-conference-ray-rice-adrian-peterson
Wilcox, D. L. (2013). Think public relations. Boston: Pearson.
NFL Players Say NO MORE to Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault. (n.d.). Retrieved February 09, 2017, from http://nomore.org/nflplayerspsa/
Geyerman, C. B. (2016). The NFL’s “Violence Against Women Problem”: Media Framing and The Perpetuation of Domestic Abuse. Studies In Popular Culture, 38(2), 99-124.
Bien, L. (2014, November 28). A complete timeline of the Ray Rice assault case. Retrieved February 09, 2017, from http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2014/5/23/5744964/ray-rice-arrest-assault-statement-apology-ravens