Tearing down idols, starting dialogue

Most people did not know what domestic violence looked like until they saw the Ray Rice video.

It doesn't take video evidence for people to be able to visualize most other crimes. If I were to tell you that someone was shot in the arm or had the wallet stolen out of their back pocket, you would understand what happened to them without having to see it.

Domestic abuse is a crime so broadly defined that unless someone has been a victim or known one they probably didn't fully understand it until about a week ago. Domestic violence can be physical as well as emotional. It can come in the form of a slap to the face or a scathingly disrespectful remark or a vicious left hook that would make even Muhammad Ali cringe.

The latter is what the American public saw when a video from inside an Atlantic City casino elevator showed Rice brutally assaulting his then-fiancee and now-wife, Janay Palmer. As a result, people in America are finally having serious conversations about domestic abuse.

Domestic violence isn't just a Ray Rice issue. Although several other pro football players have been underdisciplined by the NFL (or not at all) for cases of domestic abuse, it is far more than a league issue. This is a societal issue, and Rice's deplorable actions serve as the spark for some long-overdue and potentially impactful discussions.

From a football standpoint, change is coming as a result of this incident. Gone are the days when a player's suspension for smoking a joint would be twice as long as the one he would receive for assaulting a woman. The NFL has hardened its stance on domestic violence offenses, and league commissioner Roger Goodell could (and should) lose his job if it is determined the NFL attempted to cover up the Rice video, which it allegedly received from law enforcement last April.

But Rice isn't the only NFL player who has been guilty of domestic abuse. This is likely an issue that has been plaguing the league for decades—and there have probably been worse offenders. So why should you be ok with Rice getting 24/7 coverage while other players like Carolina's Greg Hardy and San Francisco's Ray McDonald receive a portion of the public backlash?

It's because sports are an underrated catalyst for social change—Rice is simply serving as the centerpiece of this conversation.

Many malign professional sports for glorifying playground games on a global stage. Critics say that these games are played by oversized, overpaid children, and often athletes do sports a disservice by living up to this billing. Athletes are normally seen as role models for America's children, but they serve that same role for adults—the hope is that this highly-publicized situation will cause victims and abusers to seek the help that they need.

Love it or hate it, what sports do provide is the biggest possible arena for important discussions. It took days of turmoil in Ferguson, Mo., before the national media figured out what was going on there. Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling had the entire country talking about race relations in a matter of minutes. The continued marginalization of Native Americans would go largely unnoticed if not for the controversial name of the Washington Redskins. The NFL's issues with concussions provide valuable commentary on our country's unwillingness to address mental health issues. The Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State provided a chilling look at the damage that can be caused by years of child abuse, and Michael Vick's actions forced people to take a long hard look at animal abuse.

You don't have to be a sports fan to understand the importance of these types of discussions. These are issues that have been plaguing our society far longer than whatever scandal finally brought them into the national spotlight.

Sports has a way of building men into idols, which only makes it more painful when someone like Ray Rice's world comes crashing down around him. But when it does, we come to realize that these muscular demigods are in fact very human.

Stories like Ray Rice are like modern day Greek myths—using the errors of the gods to expose the faults of man.


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