They say seeing is believing, and if the recent unfolding in the Ray Rice incident is any indication, “they” may be correct.

Though the reported domestic abuse for which Rice was indicted occurred more than six months ago—though the legal system has already delivered a ruling in the case—the NFL has just recently modified its original punishment against Rice (a two game suspension), to a lengthier, indefinite sentence. Additionally, Rice has been dropped from the Baltimore Ravens roster.

Human beings are visual creatures—creatures frequently incapable of fully internalizing something until not only proof, but visual evidence, is digested.This new development comes on the heels of a recent, graphic video of the abuse that occurred on the night of February 15th—the elevator surveillance footage of which was leaked by TMZ on Monday. The video shows Rice hitting his then fiancée twice in the face, the second blow knocking his victim unconscious before her head hits against the elevator hand rail. Rice then proceeds to pull his victim’s limp body from the elevator toward the hallway.

In a press conference on Monday night, Ravens head coach, John Harbaugh, had this to say regarding the footage: “It’s something we saw for the first time today. It changed things of course. It made things a little bit different.”

Different indeed—until Monday, Rice was to face what many considered a mild wrist slapping; he was only dealt a two game suspension and was not only being retained by the Baltimore Ravens, but receiving ringing endorsements from the organization.  Perhaps more frustrating than anything else to many is the fact that Rice’s record will be expunged following the successful completion of a program sometimes given to first time domestic abuse perpetrators; the alternative sentence was three to five years in jail.

But what has many confused is the spark that ignited such a dramatic change in the NFL’s handling of the case. Certainly video footage of such graphic violence is bound to make one’s stomach churn—certainly the general public should have been outraged—but did anything really change since July 24th when the NFL originally assigned Rice his two game suspension?

Not really. Since February we’ve essentially known that Rice hit and subsequently rendered his then fiancée (now wife) unconscious.  Since February the general public has had access to video footage of Rice dragging her limp body down a hotel hallway. Though legal proceedings did not conclude until May, police confirmed in February that Rice had indeed forcibly rendered his fiancée unconscious. The simple assault charges which were initially brought against Rice’s victim were dropped in the March 27th indictment; Rice’s simple assault charges were elevated to third-degree aggravated assault charges.

Though the actual amount of force required to leave someone unconscious varies depending on several factors, there are boxing blog posts dedicated to the science of a KO. Answers.com asserts that, on average, it could be between 600-800 pounds of force. To most, though, the answer to that question is simply “a lot.”

What did the NFL imagine had happened in that elevator? How could the footage have included anything other than a 200-plus pound man violently beating his fiancée? It’s one thing to imagine violence such as that which took place on February 15th, and quite another to see it unfold on the internet for the world to see.

While what we know to have happened on February 15th hasn’t changed much since the initial incident, what we understand to have happened has certainly been drastically altered. Human beings are visual creatures—creatures frequently incapable of fully internalizing something until not only proof, but visual evidence, is digested.

Logically speaking, we should have been disgusted by the abuse from the time it happened. We should have been outraged by the victim blaming perpetrated not only by much of the general public, but by the NFL. Many were, but too many reserved true acceptance of the “altercation” as abuse until the graphic content of the beating was released. The sickening nature of the TMZ video leaves no room for “well maybe she egged him on,” or “it was a mutual fight that got out of hand,” which many had asserted, or at least hypothesized, before September 8th.  Watching a lifeless form pushed and prodded by the hulking man who put her on the ground to begin with leaves no room for “The two people obviously have a couple issues that they have to work through… they understand their own issues,” which is what Harbaugh was quoted as saying back in February.

Rice is not a man in the midst of a marital issue with his wife; he is a man guilty of abuse. He is a man who has been enabled by the NFL, up until now, to cast a burden of blame on the woman he attacked. Logically, one could have deduced what happened before watching video footage of the abuse; the difference between deduction and absolute, visually confirmed certainty, however, is apparently a wide canyon.

Rice has gone from one game away from a probable return to the Ravens’ starting line-up to a man who might never play again. The Baltimore Ravens have gone from painting Rice as an upstanding gentleman who fell into a bout of domestic violence to cutting the face of their franchise from the team. The NFL has gone from facilitating press conferences featuring Rice and his wife as a united front—the first time Rice’s wife spoke out publicly on the incident—to suspending the running-back indefinitely.

So as Harbaugh said, “[the video footage] made things a little bit different,” indeed.


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