A man called Ray Rice

So, a colleague was annoyed that I tweeted an animated gif earlier today of former Baltimore Ravens football star Ray Rice beating his girlfriend unconscious.

The image accompanied a story from our own Jon Green, calling for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to be fired over the incident.

The outraged-friend assumed that I tweeted the image in a callous attempt to get “hits” to my blog. (As if trying to get traffic, which equals ad revenue, which equals keeping the blog afloat and paying the mortgage, is somehow a dirty pursuit for a venture that lives and dies based on whether it can earn enough monthly income).

The thing is, I didn’t tweet the image solely to get traffic. I tweeted it because you don’t win civil rights battles by playing nice, and you don’t stop domestic violence by soft-pedaling the crime.

You win by getting in people’s faces and making them uncomfortable. You win by making the offense personal, unforgettable, and ultimately unacceptable.

Baltimore Ravens runningback Ray Rice at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in 2012. Photo by 1ravenscowboysnflfan.

Baltimore Ravens runningback Ray Rice at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in 2012. Photo by 1ravenscowboysnflfan.

I’d seen snippets of the Rice domestic violence video on TV yesterday, but hadn’t been paying attention to the story, so wasn’t aware of what it was all about. Then last night, I was editing Jon Green’s story, and after reading the shocking details, I wanted to see this video for myself. And there it was — a pro football player knocking a woman unconscious, and then dragging her seemingly-lifeless body out of an elevator as if she were some inconveniently oversized rag doll.

It was shocking. And horrible. And it made me want to know even more about the story.

And that’s why I tweeted the images this morning.

Jeff Gannon, posing on his off-hours Web site.

Jeff Gannon, posing on his off-hours Web site.

I remember, back in February of 2005, when I faced a similar dilemma about whether to publicly share shocking images associated with another graphic story. The story was about a man called Jeff Gannon, a conservative “journalist” covering the Bush White House. Gannon was more stenographer than reporter; tending to regurgitate the far-right line on the issue of the day, including gay rights. It turns out that while staunchly anti-gay by day, during his off-hours Gannon (working under a pseudonym without the requisite White House background check) was actually a seriously-in-debt gay prostitute — something decidedly at odds with a conservative Republican White House that had just launched a campaign to enshrine anti-gay prejudice in the US Constitution.

My dilemma was whether to publish the photos I had discovered on Gannon’s prostitution Web sites. He was nude, they were graphic, and I wasn’t sure whether the images were too salacious for the story. I talked to Mike Signorile, another gay writer, about it, and Mike ultimately swayed me to publish the photos (though I put PG versions on the site, while permitting the readers to click through to the unedited ones).

Mike’s logic was simple: People won’t fully appreciate the shocking nature of the story unless and until you shock them with the full truth of it. Mike had an even more nuanced point as well. By pulling the photos, or at least editing out the naughty bits, I would in fact be complicit in underselling the story. In a very real way, my own reticence about the images risked changing the story for the worse, and ultimately watering down Gannon’s offense in the eyes of the reader.

And that’s why I included the animated gifs, and entire video, in Jon Green’s story this morning.

As Jon reports, neither the NFL nor the Baltimore Ravens took decisive action against Ray Rice until the second, more graphic, video went public this week. The NFL already knew about Rice’s crime, the player had already admitted to hitting his girlfriend, and we’d already seen an earlier video of him dragging her unconscious out of an elevator. Yet, it wasn’t until we saw a video of Rice actually hitting his fiancée in the face that the NFL acted. The brutal reality of the crime didn’t hit home until we witnessed it first-hand.

And such is the nature of successful civil rights activism.

Oh that we lived in a world where you could simply and logically explain a problem — be it racism, homophobia, or violence against women — and the public would rise to redress simply based on the underlying merits. But, for better or worse, life is more visceral, and people more emotional.

While there’s a role for facts in swaying public opinion, I’ve learned through more than 20 years of (rather successful) gay rights activism that few things are as effective at educating the public as a swift punch to the gut.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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