Why Roger Goodell's Meeting With Ray Rice And His Wife Was A Bad Idea

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On June 16, Ray Rice and his wife, Janay, the woman he knocked out in an Atlantic City resort elevator, met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in his office. Four other men were present, according to Sports Illustrated's Peter King: Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, team president Dick Cass, and NFL mucky-mucks Jeff Pash and Adolpho Birch.

As it turned out, this was a critical moment for Rice's fortunes. Janay, per King, pleaded that the "incident" in the elevator was a "one-time event," that "nothing physical had happened in their relationship before or since," and that it would only "ruin Rice's image and career" for Goodell to hit him with heavy sanctions.


King said it was "a moving and apparently convincing case." But should the meeting have even happened?

"Even having the two of them in the room and thinking that she can speak freely in that kind of a situation is crazy," says Rene Renick, vice president of programs and emerging issues with the National Network to End Domestic Violence. "There is no way she can speak freely. And if there was any chance that she was afraid or coerced, she couldn't have said that. She would have been probably in a whole lot of danger."


Also, as Renick pointed out out, what other choice did Janay Rice have?

"So let's say they came to a meeting and she said, 'I'm scared to death. He hurts me all the time and I'm trapped.' Are they going to protect her?" Renick said. "It's outrageous."


But the meeting did happen, as did the press conference in May where Janay sat at Rice's side while he said things like, "Sometimes in life, you will get knocked down." (During the presser, Janay apologized for the role she played that night in the elevator.) Renick called out the NFL for even letting Janay's account factor into the decision.

"Ultimately, no matter what she says, it's the NFL's job to hold their players accountable and say real clearly that this is not all right," she said. "This is not OK behavior."


The issue goes well beyond accountability. In the vacuum of the NFL, neither the meeting nor the press conference seems all that odd. Both are standard stations of the cross for any football player caught behaving badly. But in the psychologically fraught context of a domestic incident, these are strange things for the league not only to countenance but to encourage. Attorney advisor Viktoria Kristiansson of AEquitas, which provides resources for prosecutors in cases involving violence against women, pointed out that domestic-violence victims often wind up defending the very people who had hurt them.

"Victim giving statements on behalf of the batterer, blaming herself, minimizing the culpability of the batterer—these are all common in domestic violence and also witness-intimidation dynamics," said Kristiansson, who wasn't speaking specifically about the Rice case.


Renick did find one positive in all this—that so many people jumped all over the NFL and Goodell for their lax punishment. "It is heartening that we're hearing from women and men that this is outrageous. That is a heartening piece of this," Renick said. "But clearly we still have a long way to go."

Photo via Getty