“I still find it hard to accept being called a ‘victim,’ ” Janay Rice told ESPN. “I know there are so many different opinions out there about me — that I’m weak, that I’m making excuses and covering up abuse — and that some people question my motives for staying with Ray.”
As the video of her unconscious body being dragged out of an Atlantic City casino elevator by her then-fiancé-now-husband kept playing over and over on every media outlet, Janay Rice said she stopped watching. Who could blame her? She said on the “Today” show that she asked Ray Rice, an NFL star with the Baltimore Ravens, “Why did you just leave me there like that?” It was a question many others, including me, posed then, as he seemed so nonchalant, so uninterested as he let others care for her. The answer she recounts, that he was in “such shock” that he didn’t know how to function, doesn’t really explain much.
When the full video surfaced that showed Ray Rice knocking her out with a punch, she said she never looked at it. The display did cross over from shocking information to a kind of domestic violence porn pretty quickly, with Janay Rice as the “victim” character in a drama rather than a human being, even to those who professed to have her interests at heart.
Now the woman who has become a symbol, who inspired “Why I Stayed” and “Why I Left” hash tags, is telling her side of the story. It’s understandable.
In the ESPN interview with Jemele Hill – one that has been skeptically scrutinized as it gives Janay Rice control over the edited and published version – and on the “Today” show, she goes public just as an arbitrator has overturned Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension from the NFL, and teams are considering whether or not to sign him. Is she concerned with the couple’s future? The first time she appeared at a Ravens-arranged news conference at which she apologized for her part in the incident, she told Matt Lauer on Monday, “I was ready to do anything that was going to help the situation. … help the way we looked in the media, help his image. Help, obviously, his career.”
That will be how some judge her current round of interviews, even though it sounds as though the Ravens pushed – or strongly suggested – that ill-fated news conference months ago. (The team posted, then deleted, her “apology” on its Twitter account.)
But for those who thought they had it all figured out about why she would stay, Janay Rice gives complicated reasons. “I want people to know how much we love each other and how far we’ve come,” she said to ESPN, recounting the couple’s long friendship and courtship, and counseling sessions have helped them, she said.
Then, there is their daughter, Rayven, a reason to stay and to leave. “We’re going to be honest with her,” she told Lauer. “We’re going to tell her what happened, let her know things like this are not okay. It’s not something that she should tolerate.” Janay Rice said she and her husband would let Rayven know “that people make mistakes and it’s how you learn from them.”
That is going to be more than one tough conversation, whether or not Ray and Janay Rice stay married.
As Janay Rice begins to speak out, she is not standing on her own; family members, particularly her mother, Candy Palmer, have been close by for support. Some of her lines sound rehearsed, as though she says them to herself to try to make sense of it all. It’s a process, according to counselors and women I’ve spoken with; they have made that same journey toward understanding their own domestic violence situations and come out stronger on the other side.
Reading, watching and listening to Janay Rice, it seems she is the one who is still in shock — what was possibly the worst moment of her life is the stuff of public record. In trying to take control of her story, she has to know that no amount of interviews will end the questions, doubts and criticisms. In fact, the more she talks, the louder those critical voices will become.
No matter what others think, Janay Rice has decided it’s worth it.