Yesterday, like many in the sporting world, I spent time looking at the situation involving Ray Rice, his wife Janay Palmer Rice, the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell and even Pittsburgh Steelers William Gay’s openness about domestic violence in his life. Removing the politics, eliminating the ‘who did what, when” and ignoring the pundits, I struggled for most of the day with the ongoing coverage. You can read my article by clicking here.
What continued to stay with me wasn’t that the “news” permeating nearly every form of social media, sporting news site and even the major networks. What stuck with me were these words from Janay Palmer Rice, herself (via Instagram):
“I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it’s reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media and unwanted options from the public has cause my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret everyday is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his [expletive] off for all his life just to gain ratings is a horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow and show the world what real love is! Ravensnation, we love you!”
And so, stepping away from any role that resembles anything other than another human being that has experienced violence in their own life, I sat down to write this letter – to Janay, to Ray – and to every other person that truly DOES know what the pain they have and are experiencing is like. You see, I too have been the victim of domestic violence. I can only hope that by using a public forum, my experience and this open letter can help heal some of that pain.
A few years ago, I woke up in the middle of my very own nightmare. I not only felt like I was mourning the death of my closest friend, but my own death. Your words struck me so strongly that I take this opportunity, not for myself, but to reach out to you and Ray in an open and honest way. Please don’t judge me because I am a ‘journalist’, because what I am sharing with you is not coming from any media background I may or may not have – it is coming straight from my heart. I don’t want anything but to share my experience with you and hope that you will see this as it is meant to be, a letter of concern and of shared grief.
The person that I cared very deeply for was one day someone I looked up to and very quickly turned into someone I spent a lot of time looking up at. I was fully invested in that person, supported them, felt love for them. Life wasn’t perfect. We had the every day worries of how to pay the bills, what our schedules would be like that week. In every way, things seemed perfectly normal. I felt secure. I never believed that this person who was so important to me would ever do anything to harm me intentionally – ever.
The first time an act of violence occurred in the relationship, it was like the whole world stopped spinning. It was surreal in how quickly it happened, and how my mind could replay it like it was a slow-motion visual effect. In fact, I blamed myself for the argument that led up to it – the yelling, the name-calling, the finger-pointing. Maybe I had just pushed the wrong buttons. Maybe I shouldn’t have been as upset as I was. After things cooled off, I was hurt physically and emotionally, felt broken, but also felt like it had to have been a fluke, something where two tempers just got the better of us.
And then the “next time” happened, and the next and the next. My heart was broken, shattered into a million pieces. I was confused and felt helpless. At the same time, I defended this person in my life because I knew that somehow, somewhere the feelings we had initially had for each other must still exist. Like you, my relationship was thrust into the public arena. I was humiliated and angry. I didn’t want journalists asking me questions, making me relive a three-year span that on retrospection was one of Hell. I too was thrust into the justice system where the word “justice” doesn’t really seem to apply the way I’d been taught it would. My life was picked over with a fine-toothed comb, analyzed and re-analyzed, displayed, delved-into in ways that were horrifying and violating. I felt like nothing was sacred anymore.
Although I was able to finally remove myself from the situation and the relationship ended, in my case for the best, I still have moments of panic. I often have nightmares about the situation. I wake up covered in sweat from a dead sleep wondering if I am in danger only to realize that I am not in that place anymore.
I don’t judge you for caring for your husband or for defending him. I don’t have the right to judge Ray’s statements or his sincerity. The only thing I caution both of you about is what I learned to call “loving in fear.” I don’t subscribe to the idea that if a person commits an act of violence they will always act out in violence, but I do know that there is always a chance it can happen again. We all have the ability to hurt those we care about, and often those closest to us are the ones that see the parts of us that we keep buried or hidden except in extreme cases. If you’re loving each other in fear of each other, you’re headed for dark roads.
From one woman to another – only you know your husband in a way others don’t. Your husband knows himself better than anyone. I wish both of you wellness and health. Your situation may have made you both feel like islands in a sea of sharks, but you’re not alone. My hope is that you will both focus on healing. Violence in loving relationships – well, there really is no place for it. Gain strength from those who truly care about you, don’t go into the healing part with just the two of you, and find trusted partners to help you. Find support. Take advantage of counseling, whether it be traditional or spiritual.
There are more people hoping for your success in stepping away from victimization into the healthy relationship that you and Ray have said publicly you intend to have than you think. There are people all over this world who are watching how you deal with this because they are in situations where they are afraid, lonely, under scrutiny and looking for answers. Domestic violence isn’t just a man-woman issue, either. How you and Ray move on, whether you want to be a role model or not, is going to be viewed in that way.
My hope is that both of you will grab hold of the opportunity to do as I have here, to speak publicly about not only your love, but the issues that led to you being at your current location. And most importantly, how the two of you find the help, health and heeling you need. Not many people have the opportunity to take a difficult topic and turn it into an experience to reach out to others.
Again, this letter is in no way meant to tell you how I believe you should act, feel, respond or conduct your lives. It took me a long time to be able to hold my head up high in public and step out of the shadows of my experience, but once I found that light again, I knew that I was stronger because I faced it the best way I knew how and wasn’t alone in doing it.
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