UPDATE: CBS decides not to have Rihanna open Thursday’s Ravens-Steelers game Today in unfortunate couplings we have Rihanna singing the opening song for the debut of “Thursday Night Football” on CBS. What, you say, could possibly be so terrible about that? The Baltimore Ravens are playing. And so, even though the Ravens have fired Ray Rice after TMZ released video of him knocking his wife, Janay Palmer Rice, unconscious, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended Rice indefinitely, a stench has settled over the entire league. It does not show signs of dissipating anytime soon — certainly not with the Wednesday revelations that law enforcement officials turned over the video to the NFL in April. The NFL maintained it had “no knowledge” of league officials seeing the video before Monday. The news late Wednesday night that the NFL would be hiring former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III to probe the NFL’s investigation and response to the Rice case thickens the plot. Then there’s the National Organization of Women’s assertion that the NFL has a “violence against women problem.” The president of NOW is one of many calling for Goodell’s head. The NFL is about to find that once exposed, connections to intimate partner violence are very, very difficult to shake.
Like Palmer, Rihanna’s name became inextricably linked with the subject after TMZ released photographic evidence of the violence she suffered. In Rihanna’s case, TMZ published evidence photos taken to document the 2009 assault she suffered at the hands of her then-boyfriend Chris Brown the night before the Grammys. In both cases, there were questions raised about the ethics of TMZ releasing the images and whether it served any purpose beyond fulfilling the public’s prurient interest. Many, including the Nation’s Dave Zirin, have argued that publicly releasing video of Palmer’s attack simply re-victimizes her. For years afterward, Rihanna was expected to answer questions about her relationship with Brown and his attack. She became the poster girl and go-to example for intimate partner violence whether she wanted to be one or not. Dalliances with Matt Kemp and Drake were not enough to shake gossip and speculation about Brown, especially not after Drake and Brown got into a fight at a nightclub, supposedly over Rihanna. Even that was referenced tangentially in a sketch at this year’s ESPYs. Rihanna has finally begun to be able to reclaim an identity outside of a pre-Grammy assault that took place five years ago. Being a fashion It Girl helps. But she’ll never be able to run from it entirely, which is why, when she’s broadcast singing “Run This Town” with Jay Z tonight to open the game between the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, it will be another reminder of what she and the NFL have in common: an unfortunate, high-profile connection to domestic violence.