Before the NFL spotlight and the success, Ray Rice was just a little guy. A sponge ready to learn. Ready to be loved.
What messages did this young boy receive? Was he told to be a man? Was he shown that being a man meant using force to get his needs met? Was he surrounded by male role models that demonstrated respect and equality for the women in his life? Was he told that boys don't cry? Were incidents of physical aggression explained away by "boys will be boys"?
Ray Rice was once a preteen, presumably playing youth sports. Was he surrounded by coaches that mimicked him if he "ran like a girl"? Was he part of a system where male teams and players were celebrated as heroes and demi-gods? Was he given a free pass for bad behavior due to his status? Did anyone talk to him about the sexist depictions of women that are commonplace in TV, music, movies and video games? Was he taught to respect his female peers? Did the males around him model respectful and healthy relationships?
Ray Rice was once a teenager. Did his teachers, coaches, and family members have high expectations for the non-athlete side of his life? Did he use his male athlete privilege for the good of others? Were girls seen as an athletic conquest and a reward for his athletic success on the playing field? Was he in a locker room that objectified women and girls? Was he or his fellow athletes held accountable for their off field behavior? Did he still carry that free pass, given earlier in life, that "boys will be boys"?
Ray Rice was once a college student. Did his status as a college football player give him a road free of accountability? Did his coaches and trainers convey the messages to suck it up, be a man, victory is everything? Did anyone ever sit him down and talk with him about healthy relationship, gender equality and gender respect? Was his locker room environment filled with sexism and misogyny?
Ray Rice is now, after many years of privilege, being held accountable for his abusive behavior toward a woman. He is now being told that such abuse is not acceptable at work (football) and in life. Initially, he was given a near "free pass" with his two-game suspension. It seemed that the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL wanted to ignore or forget the part that happened behind closed doors, albeit an elevator door. But now with the world watching the video of him actually hitting his fiancée, they are on fire.
Imagine now if Ray Rice, as that cute little toddler, was surrounded by people, male and female, who gave him clear instructions and information on how to be a person (regardless of gender). A person who as he grows through life, respects those different than he is, that values women as equals, that uses his privilege for good, that would walk away from conflict, that doesn't buy into the belief that "boys will be boys."
The country and media are now playing Monday morning quarterback with this story and placing a lot of blame on the NFL for how the violence was initially handled. And rightly so, the NFL as an employer, should be held accountable. But I wonder, at the same time, how many of these same folks are holding their own employees accountable? Or how many of us are sitting down with our young boys -- budding athletes, artists, scientists, doctors, spiritual leaders -- and having a conversation with them about how what happens behind doors matters -- every single time -- it matters.
What are you telling your little boy, your preteen, your teen, your college student, your young adult?