The proliferation of video cameras, both for security in public places and on cellphones, have led to a wave of conflict and crime being caught on camera. The latest high-profile case is that of former Ravens running back Ray Rice, who knocked his fiancé unconscious in an elevator of an Atlantic City motel earlier this year. The initial video showed him dragging her off the elevator while she was unconscious. The case went to court, and he was put in a program designed to help him learn ways to avoid doing such things again. The NFL suspended him for two weeks during the regular season. And, he and his fiancé got married.
But then a second video of the same incident was put on the internet just recently (months after the incident), and this was more explicit, actually showing him punching her. After this video was released, he was fired by the Baltimore Ravens, and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. Many of those who saw the video reacted angrily towards Rice and agreed with the punishment meted out by the Ravens and the NFL, some even calling for greater punishment.
I have a different take on things. But first, let me say that it was wrong for Rice to hit his fiancé, right that it went to court, right that he is trying to change, and right that the NFL suspended him for a set period of time (the first suspension). Domestic violence is a huge problem in every country in the world (at least I’m not aware of anywhere it is not), and it is still a big problem in the United States. I’m not sure it can ever be solved completely, but we can do more to help.
BUT, this is what I hate… There seem to be two levels of punishment in America, one level if you actually did something wrong, and another level if it got caught on video and is made available to the public. This should not be. For all the people who reacted strongly after the second video, I am wondering how each person thought Rice’s fiancé was knocked out? Surely people understood that he hit her. Why such outrage when it was seen on video, but not before it was seen on video?
That leads me to a couple issues that I think are critical. First, most of us are not prepared to see violence on video. Something about the visual makes things more concrete, more serious to us, and evokes strong emotional responses. Is it fair that when things are on video (or in some cases, on audio) the desired punishment by the viewer is much higher than when it is not captured electronically?
Most people have forgotten Rice’s teammate. I will not mention his name. But he is a veteran and a perennial Pro Bowl selection, and a leader on the team. In 2009, reports on the NFL official website say that he held down his girlfriend, kicked her, broke her nose, and poured bleach on her and their child. He wasn’t suspended at all. Then, in another article on the same website, it says that in 2012 he punched his girlfriend in the neck then dragged her alongside their moving car with the kids in the car, giving her severe road rash. He did not get suspended for that either. But neither incident was on video for the public to see.
And I’m not suggesting that he be suspended, just that the treatment is inconsistent, and that maybe firing a player seven months after the incident and who is already repentant and in a court-mandated program is reactionary rather than helpful.
The second point I want to make is that by seeing a person’s worst moments on video, many have a tendency to judge the whole person by that worst moment. We are told by Jesus in Matthew 7:1-2 that in the same manner we judge a person, God would judge us. Who wants God to judge our whole lives by our worst moment? We must be careful not to go down this slippery slope in condemning people.
Think of your own darkest moment — where you were at your worst in how you behaved, perhaps in the privacy of your own home. Would you want a video of that moment to be released? Do you think that moment defines who you really are? (If you do, then you especially need Jesus in your life to give you forgiveness, restoration, and healing.)
I will not believe that the real Ray Rice is represented by what is in that video. Sure, he did it, but that does not define him — not to me, and certainly not to God. God sees the destiny in each person. As his follower, it is my part to call that forth in people, not to shame or condemn someone for their darkest moment.
Third, should someone trying to follow Jesus be jumping on the internet to see every sensation that hits the blogosphere? We have admonitions by the Apostle Paul to avoid even speaking about deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11-13), and that instead of evil we should think about praiseworthy things (Philippians 4:8). How can a Christian feed his or her mind with darkness and not become either dark, or at least immune to the sensitivities of darkness and violence, or both? Why not stick with your own reality — pay attention to your family and friends — and leave alone complicated issues in the lives of people you don’t even know for them to work out?
The problem with many leaders these days is that they seem to be more concerned with reactionary public opinion than with doing the right thing. Why would we rather punish than heal? Do we not believe that redemption is possible? If it isn’t, then none of us have any hope! Why couldn’t the Ravens and the NFL worked with the Rice family to bring about restoration?
Instead, by punishing the perpetrator, they also punished the victim. By making Rice unemployed and unemployable, it made a bad situation worse. Will they have to sell their home and possessions and move away? Domestic violence is complex, but surely when the public harms the victim, something has gone incredibly wrong. Adding stress to an already stressful situation is not a way to a solution.
We have come to an age in which we can see video of the worst in people we don’t even know. We can judge them and propagate our judgment via social media. And we can demand people don’t get caught in their sins, but if they are, that they must be excommunicated from public life. But is this the way we really believe things should be? Have we become so tainted by the media that we have lost touch with the concepts of forgiveness, growth, and transformation?
I will keep wearing my Ray Rice football jersey. I always hope for redemption, and I hope I’m not the only one.