Taking One for the Team: Why We Choose to Keep Peace and Protect Abusers

by Arlecia Simmons Ph.D.

As I read the news stories involving the incident of violence between Ray Rice and his now wife, Janay Palmer, I considered what influences women to protect those who hurt us. Palmer, who was then Rice’s fiancée, is seen on video being dragged out of an Atlantic City casino elevator after a dispute with Rice. Months later as his wife, she reportedly asked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to be lenient when deciding Rice's fate. Suspended for only two games as a Baltimore Ravens running back, Rice later issued a public apology to his wife. "I know that's not who I am as a man," Rice said in a July 31 news conference. "That's not who my mom raised me to be. If anyone knows me they know I was raised by a single parent and that was my mother."

As the daughter of a single mother, I imagine many women like Janay and countless others have decided to take “one for the team.” Teams often composed of friends, relatives, lovers, molesters, rapists, and other violators. Even when you played your position, the team’s loyalty may have been in question.

Instead of speaking your truth there was silence. Instead of protecting yourself there was compliance. Instead of changing course many continued in the expected path. We have protected those who violated us for the sake of “keeping peace.” For some, it was the relative who violated you as you slept nightly or during your summer visit to grandma’s house.

For others, you kept the peace by not telling anyone your high school boyfriend slapped you to the floor or thumped you in the throat. He didn’t mean it, you convinced yourself. He was justified in pulling your hair until your track came out; you deserved it for your actions, you believed. You looked at another guy in the mall, or said “hello” too sweetly to the guy from your Algebra class. When your parent asked if something was wrong, you told them you were fine. All was well.

The summer after my sophomore year in college, I first realized how a relationship made you feel when all was not well. I met a guy working on the construction crew of the technical college where I took summer school classes, and we exchanged numbers. It didn’t take long to become suspicious about the tone of his voice, knowledge of my whereabouts when not informed, and stern looks. Having worked as a resident assistant in my college dorm, I was trained to know the signs of dating violence.

“This joker has to go,” I realized after a phone conversation where he indicated I should discontinue contact with a male friend from church. When I called to inform him we weren’t meant to be, he demanded his homemade rap tapes back. The latter was comical since “his new music” was not requested or ever reviewed.

Deciding to discontinue the relationship was easy because the investment was low. We had not been intimate, there were no children, and as a new sorority girl I was confident about other possibilities. Sadly, the decision to leave an abusive or potentially abusive relationship isn’t always as easy.

For Palmer, there is a 2-year-old child to consider. There is a lifestyle she is now accustomed to and relationship we only know about based on media reports. For her, choosing to marry Rice and petition Goodell are choices she decided to make.

While we shouldn’t care about her decision to support the “Rice Team,” I can’t help thinking about those who have played the positions of baby’s mother, girlfriend, or wife on unfaithful teams where supposed one-time incidents were the introduction to further abuse. Those are not the narratives story editors and producers include in reality shows. No, those are the stories of women of many hues who love, date, and marry men who work in various professions.

Leaving a lover who has abused you, especially if married with children, is not as easy as some may envision. Logistically things must be put into place, and statistics show it is only after multiple departures that women leave for good. Yet, women experiencing abuse or feel at risk of abuse should not think it is impossible to secure peace and safety.

As the story of Rice and Palmer develops and disappears from the media’s agenda, my prayer is that women who viewed the video and read the news reports consider the roles they are playing on their respective teams. If anything about their story resonates with you, it may be time to make some difficult decisions.

They may need to ask themselves: Is the culture of my team highlighted by mutual respect and love or fear and intimidation? Have the love taps become full blown punches?

At age 40, I am grateful for that still small voice in my 20-year-old self that said: “This relationship isn’t what’s best for you. “

Photo Credit: Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Rev. Arlecia D. Simmons, Ph.D., M.Div., is the Chief Encourager of Look and Live Ministries, Inc. She studies the intersection of media and religion and blogs at www.looknlive.com

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