Domestic abuse didn’t start or end with Ray and Janay Rice, and neither should our conversation

CBS’ sportscaster James Brown took a few minutes of airtime before the Baltimore Ravens v. Pittsburgh Steelers game on Thursday night, September 11th, to discuss an issue that’s been on everyone’s minds lately. In the wake of the public outcry, institutional coverup, and media spectacle surrounding footage of former Ravens running back Ray Rice beating his then-fiancee, now wife Janay Palmer, and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator, Brown’s moment of pause from traditional game day spectatorship felt in some way both necessary and appropriate.

“This problem is bigger than football,” Brown began, “But wouldn’t it be productive if this collective outrage, as my colleagues have said, could be channeled to truly hear and address the long-suffering cries for help by so many women and, as they said, do something about it?”

Brown is not alone in hoping for a socially actionable response from a public fixated on lamenting the moral tragedy of one of its stars. Some segments of society seem to be following in the way of those thought leaders who shirk responsibility, instead choosing to feed the spectacle of scandal but shrug off the opportunity to connect this incident with the larger problem.

However, as Stacy Teicher Khadaroo writes for the Christian Science Monitor, it remains possible that the scale of this particular episode of public backlash “could end up accelerating a decades-long shift toward recognizing domestic violence as a crime as harmful to the public as any other type of violence.” But, whether this moment leads to improvements in how we talk about domestic violence, how we police abusers, or how we raise our children to think and behave, is yet to be known.

It is 20 years ago this week that Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark moment for a country that has long been inadequately capable of recognizing and internalizing the gravity of our systemic issue with domestic abuse. Perhaps, with all of these stars aligning on the stage of public attention, we might truly be ready at this moment to take issue with our society’s own issues, and demand an end to what Brown correctly explains is an “attitude that devalues women,” and actions that follow.

“This is yet another call to men,” Brown takes aim at the end of his broadcast, “to stand up and take responsibility for their thoughts, their words, their deeds, and…to give help, or to get help, because our silence is deafening…and deadly.”