Looking for silver lining in the ugliness of the Rice case

Looking for silver lining in the ugliness of the Rice case
Janay Rice and her husband, then-Ravens running back Ray Rice, at a news conference in May at the Under Armour Performance Center. (Kenneth K. LAM, Baltimore Sun)

Even as we continued to dissect the National Football League's mishandling of the Ray Rice case and millionaires associated with the matter apologized (again) for being obtuse to domestic violence, the conversation seemed to turn toward a silver lining. To wit: Maybe good will come of this ugliness.

The NFL's inadequate reaction to Rice's assault unleashed strong public backlash, heightened awareness of the everyday reality of intimate-partner abuse and forced the league and the Baltimore Ravens to make big-time amends, including a six-figure donation to the House of Ruth Maryland.


Everybody, it seems, is on board to help the House of Ruth now, the Ravens foremost.

The team pledged $600,000 over three years to one of the region's best-known charities, an organization that has served as a shelter and counseling service for battered women and children since the 1970s. It has also been a fierce advocate for laws to better protect victims of domestic violence, and over the years House of Ruth staff members have called out police officers, prosecutors or judges whenever they, like the NFL commissioner, "got it wrong."

So here's another question that grew out of the Rice case: Does accepting $600,000 from the Ravens in the midst of a controversy the team most certainly wants to go away constitute a form of hush money? Will a donation of that size, and the establishment of a formal partnership with the Ravens, silence the House of Ruth on the NFL's behavior going forward?

There have been calls for Roger Goodell's resignation as NFL commissioner, including one from the National Organization for Women. The House of Ruth has had little to say about Goodell's or the Ravens' handling of the Rice case since late August, when the donation was jointly announced.

In fact, after Janay Rice, the victim of the elevator assault, posted an emotional statement on Instagram on Sept. 9, I asked for a comment about it from Sandi Timmins, the executive director of the House of Ruth, but was told Timmins would have none. The reason? Timmins had "met with Ray and Janay," and therefore public comment was inappropriate.

But Timmins isn't a clinician. So I didn't see where she'd be breaking confidentiality rules by commenting.

House of Ruth certainly deserves support. The $600,000 from the Ravens constitutes considerable penance — or what the ethicist and philosopher Margaret Urban Walker might have called "moral repair." The partnership with the franchise raises the House of Ruth's status in a way that no other corporate donation could.

But it would be a shame if the House of Ruth became a muted voice because of it.

So I went over this with Timmins in an email exchange.

While she didn't call for Goodell's resignation, she still criticized the NFL for not having a sound policy on domestic violence long before the Rice case.

"The complete mishandling of this situation demonstrates the appalling lack of understanding and acknowledgment of intimate partner violence, its prevalence in every workplace," she said. "An organization as powerful and influential as the NFL has an obligation to include intimate partner violence specifically in its code of conduct, and to carry it out consistently. The resignation or termination of Roger Goodell without changing attitudes and actions throughout the organization would not be enough.

"The opportunity the NFL has in front of them is to lead significant, long-term change in a society that looks up to sports figures. Eliminating one person from the picture is not, all by itself, going to make that happen."

What about the Ravens? That's a big chunk of change for the House of Ruth.

Timmins asked: "Are you suggesting that nonprofits should assess the motivation behind each donation before accepting it?"


Absolutely yes, particularly one of this size, delivered in the midst of public controversy that could harm the donor's business.

"We disagree," Timmins said.

OK. But what of the reported accusation that the Ravens knew about the infamous second elevator video back in February and lobbied for leniency for Rice?

"If the NFL, and therefore each team, had a clear view of what intimate partner violence is, and had declared its severity and how it would be handled within the organization, the actions from all involved would have been cohesive and consistent, and would have sent the message that any abusive behavior is inexcusable," she said. "Clearly, none of that was in place."

She added: "We don't need to see videos to know that it exists everywhere and must be addressed everywhere."

Timmins said the House of Ruth will educate the team and staff every year about domestic violence and use the Ravens' influence to raise awareness of the problem and the services available to people who need help. So that's the silver lining; we'll have to keep an eye on it.

"The Ray Rice situation is the chance to break the silence and understand that it's happening in our own circles as well," Timmins said. "To speak only of one event diminishes the issue and ignores the thousands who are victims every day."