I like sports, in a general, “Go Team!” sort of way. I have teams that I root for and I enjoy a good game. But I can't quote stats or name players and I don't usually watch ESPN, voluntarily anyway.
But I do know the name of a football player. Ray Rice, the football player who knocked his fiancé unconscious in an elevator this past July.
Have you watched the video? It makes me sick and I can't get it out of my mind. At first we didn't see the incident from the beginning, but recent elevator footage shows Rice punching his fiance Janay Palmer with such force that she smashed her head on the elevator hand rail. He then dragged her limp body out of the elevator and proceeded to pick her up and put her down as if she were a rag doll. I find that disturbing.
Due to the video surfacing and the abuse becoming public, the NFL suspended him for a puny 2 games. 2 games? What message does that send? Many players have been suspended for more games for less serious discretions. But a man that hit his fiancé SO HARD that it knocked her out cold gets a slap on the hand? It's appalling. And a lot of people were chiming in about that.
I didn’t see much in the media about his wife Janay though, and I'm worried about her. Yes, reports came out that she asked the NFL to go lightly with the sanctions on Ray and she apologized for her role in the incident at the press conference. And as some like to point out, she married him afterward, didn't she? Everything must be fine.
But no, everything is definitely not fine. I don't believe for a minute that this was an isolated incident. If it was, wouldn't he have been horrified with himself the moment he saw her hit the floor? What kind of man would drag his loved one’s body around after he (supposedly unintentionally) hurt her? An abusive man, that's what kind. Someone who has done this before and will probably do it again.
Janay is in an abusive situation. I see it on her face in pictures and I recognize the pattern. Why? Because that was once me.
In college, my boyfriend and I had a wicked fight that resulted in bruises that didn't heal for weeks. Why didn't I walk away then? Because the next morning he apologized profusely and he treated me like a queen for months afterward. At the time, I was certain it was nothing more than an alcohol-fueled incident and that it would never happen again.
Some might think Janay went on to marry Ray because he's a famous football player. I don't think so. I suspect she married him for much the same reason I went on to marry that boyfriend. Because it's complicated. Because you love him. Because he convinces you that it will never happen again. And because you really want to believe it won't. Problem is, it almost always happens again, and the vicious cycle begins.
Which brings me to this: why would Janay apologize for her role in the incident? Because she probably believes that she was at least partially to blame. Abusers will say things like, "This is your fault because you shouldn't have made me so mad" and after hearing it time and time again, you start to internalize those words and think perhaps he's right. You did, after all, yell back, hit back, throw back. You were angry too, so it's both of your faults. Or so you convince yourself.
And why did Janay ask the NFL to go easy on Ray? I think it was because she has learned to do whatever she has to keep the peace. When you're involved with an abusive person, you don't hesitate to do whatever it takes to keep him from getting angry. You walk on eggshells, you say what you think they want to hear, and you don't make waves. It's just easier that way.
When I finally worked up the courage to divorce my husband, 17 years later, many people were surprised to find out that that he was emotionally and physically abusive. "He seemed like such a nice guy!" they would say. And that was true. He was fun, charming and intelligent. But that is the only side they got to see.
What people don't realize is that when I say I was in an abusive marriage, it doesn’t mean that he beat me up every day or that I went around in dark sunglasses to cover up black eyes. In fact, the physical fights didn't happen that often. The emotional abuse was far more difficult to bear. He would tell me I was stupid and worthless and that I was lucky to have him at all. After hearing things like that over and over again, I started to believe him.
We weren't always fighting either, and that was part of the problem. There were periods of time… weeks, months and even entire years where things were lovely and we had a lot of fun together. Then something would happen and in a heartbeat, he would turn on me and things would get ugly fast. I could not predict what might set him off, though believe me, I tried. Perhaps he thought I was too flirty with a waiter, I took too long to run errands, or I put the knife in the dishwasher incorrectly. It didn't matter after awhile because it could have been anything.
I never told anyone about our fights. I got very good at covering up the truth. When he did get physical, I wore long sleeves to cover the bruises his fingertips left on my arms. I pasted a smile on my face even though I wanted to cry. If someone happened to ask if everything was ok, I lied and said it was. I rationalized his behavior in my head and I believed it when he said I was to blame and deserved what I got. He told me repeatedly not to "air our dirty laundry in public" and so I didn't. Eventually, I lost sight of myself, what was real, and what was right. When I finally walked away, I felt as if I had come out of a fog or that I had been brainwashed.
I worry Janay is there now. I wish I could reach out to her and get to know her and to find out if I'm right. And if I am right, to help her find a way out so she doesn't spend years in that fog like I did. Perhaps I'm wrong and it was indeed an isolated incident. I hope so, for her sake. But until I find out the truth, I will worry about her.
I am Kimberly Mishkin, a Co-Founder of SAS for Women, a private comprehensive education and support resource for women. I started this company because I wanted to help women free themselves from dysfunctional and unhappy relationships like the one I was in. If you would like more information about SAS, please visit our website at www.sasforwomen.com.