Last week I was in Jacksonville, Fla. on the Marissa Alexander case. She’s the Black woman who received a sentence of 20 years for avoiding shooting her abusive husband by firing into the ceiling to back him off from beating her up again. He’d already done so, causing her to have premature delivery of her baby just 9 days before the shooting incident. She’s currently out on bail, facing a new trial and State Attorney Angela Corey who prosecuted the Trayvon Martin case is threatening to ask for 60 years this time.

While in Florida, I became aware of the Ray Rice case where he hit his fiancé so hard that he knocked her unconscious. Domestic abuse is commonplace, and many think this should make Rice the new poster boy for domestic violence. Steve Smith – the brash, big mouth sports analyst – used the occasion to comment on women provoking such abuse. The reaction to his comment quickly made him want to take it back!

Months went by after the 2014 Valentine’s Day incident was widely publicized. This happened only after Rice received a little slap on the wrist from the National Football League for his egregious behavior. Admittedly, we don’t know what happened before we saw Rice dragging a woman we now know to be Janay Palmer out of an elevator. We understand both were arrested and released. The police report indicated they were not sure of what happened. Rice and Ms. Palmer were not married at the time of this tragic event, but they were married soon thereafter – which leads one to wonder if their marriage occurred to dampen the impact of his brutality – possibly to prevent her from testifying in case there was a trial in the matter.

There was a time when something like this happened, nothing would be said. To show how far the women’s movement has come, there is more outrage about how the NFL handled the matter than about the act itself. That outrage has shown that the NFL should get the message that violence against women cannot continue to go on. People are paying more attention to the punishment rendered in cases like this involving people in the limelight; no longer will men with money have a walk in the park in domestic violence cases. The overwhelming reaction to the penalty warned team executives to be very careful how they handle these cases.

All of us who work against domestic violence daily, and sympathizers, can sleep just a little bit better – not because of the action taken by the league, but because of the reaction of the public to the penalty.

Smith must be wondering if what he said was that bad. People responded to his comments, which he had a right to say, but again it was the reaction of the people that made ESPN respond by suspending him. It wasn’t much of a punishment, but poor Steve got more suspension time than Rice.

When Rice came on the practice field the other day his fans cheered for him. I wonder if the reaction would have been the same if Janay had been their sister, mother, grandmother, or someone the fans loved.

This case puts colleges and universities, sportscasters, the NFL and others on notice that the misconduct of athletes will no longer be resolved in the locker room.

Dr. E. Faye Williams is president/CEO of the National Congress of Black Women.

E. Faye Williams

Chair of the National Congress of Black Women