Last Monday while getting ready for work, I turned on ESPN only to be greeted by this shock inducing report:Wait, what? A Call To Men publicly advocating for Ray Rice to get a second chance in the NFL? You best believe I was wide awake after that bit of news!
I guess I should back up for a second, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with A Call To Men and therefore unsure why this is a big deal. A Call To Men is an anti-violence organization Co-founded by Tony Porter (check out his TED talk) and Ted Bunch. In their words, A Call To Men “works to create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women and girls are valued and safe.” As an organization, they are well-known and very respected in my field and on a personal level, I have met Tony Porter a few times and I admire his work a great deal. Additionally, A Call To Men has built a strong reputation over the years, based on their quality work with boys and men, including professional athletes and the military, via trainings, speeches, workshops and other initiatives.
As you can probably imagine, it’s not everyday that an organization known for working to preventing men’s violence against women makes a public statement in support of a man caught on camera abusing a woman. That fact alone made this announcement highly notable. Beyond sheer abnormality, it simply made no sense -at all- for A Call To Men to make such a declaration. A quick cost-benefit analysis, or better yet, a glance at their own guiding principles would have made it pretty obvious.
All of that aside however, statements attributed to Porter and Bunch in the ESPN report stood out to me right away as unconvincing arguments for accepting Rice’s redemption. Here’s what I mean… take a look at what they said about Rice and the things he’s been doing to earn his way back;
Porter and Bunch said they’ve based their beliefs on their extensive involvement and interaction with Rice over the past nine months. They have watched him speak at his alma mater, Rutgers, and work with student-athletes at his high school in New Rochelle, New York, delivering a message about learning from your mistakes and changing the narrative of your life.
They say he wants his daughter, Rayven, to remember him for the good he did for years rather than the night he punched his then-fiancée, Janay… “He’s held himself accountable,” Bunch said. “He is saying everything that you would want him to say and doing everything that you would want him to do… His work in the area of educating young men is more important than him getting back on the field. He knows that and has said that to us. He is seeing the bigger picture. He has a desire to compete again, but also to make a difference in the world… We’ve been in front of a lot of batterers. He is as transparent as I’ve seen, and as sincere as I’ve seen.”
Now, I fully admit that I’m not up to speed with the details of Rice’s redemption tactics, but based purely on what is appearing in these reports I’m certainly not convinced. When they say that after nine months of working with Rice they see a changed man deserving a second chance I really do want to believe Porter and Bunch, but this report just doesn’t do anything to strengthen their claim. At all. My respect for A Call To Men leads me to believe that there was more to the quote than ESPN’s retelling gives us. Either way, the justifications in this report, which are all we have to go on, amount to little more than vague accounting and they just don’t add up as far as I’m concerned.
Thankfully, it didn’t take Bunch and Porter long to realize the mistake they had made. Days after the initial ESPN interview they released a statement apologizing for their misstep. Sadly, yet unsurprisingly, the apology didn’t receive any airtime on ESPN (or other news venues) like their first statement did. The apology was shared among the many organizations and people in my field who were just as shocked as I at the original declaration, despite ESPN apparently ignoring it. Here’s the statement (printed in its entirety):
We have been in deep reflection since our recent interview with ESPN about Ray Rice and his potential return to the NFL.
After hearing from so many of you who lead the work of the domestic and sexual violence movement and have supported A CALL TO MEN, as well as our own soul searching, we realize we were wrong to independently endorse Rice’s second chance at his football career. We took action without consulting the community that we are so privileged to work for and with, and without thoughtfully considering the impact of our endorsement.
We also irresponsibly characterized Rice’s actions as a “mistake.” We have worked tirelessly alongside you to educate the public that domestic violence is not a mistake. Men’s violence against women is a choice rooted in patriarchy and sexism, used to gain power and control over another person.
We were blinded by the possibility of making a difference in a young Black man’s life who could potentially teach other young men about the impact and consequences of their choices. After intimate conversations with the Rice family, we were also overwhelmed with hope for them. We acted without upholding our own principle of having systems of accountability to ALL women.
As men who strive to be supportive allies to women, we are aware that good intentions are not enough, and we recognize and accept that male entitlement played a role in our decision to not consult those most impacted by our stance – women and more specifically, women of color.
We apologize to survivors, our partners, our board, our staff and ALL women. We take full responsibility for our statements and actions. We recommit to be more vigilant about including survivors and those most marginalized in our ongoing work as we strive to create a world where ALL men and boys are loving and respectful, and ALL women and girls are valued and safe.
To all who have been courageous and thoughtful in holding us accountable, we thank you.
Ted Bunch and Tony Porter
Founders of A CALL TO MEN
I for one like this response and I believe Bunch and Porter when they admit to being blinded by the possibility of making a difference in a young black man’s life. A few key take aways for me (and I would argue for any organization doing social justice/anti-violence work);
First, always remember your mission and who you really work for… A Call To Men’s mission (as I interpret it at least) isn’t about supporting and vouching for men like Ray Rice. It’s about serving people impacted by violence and pushing cultural change focused on preventing such violence in the first place. Did speaking up for Rice, no matter how contrite he is, benefit their work in any way? 100% NO.
Second, always check with community partners and/or those in other organizations fighting alongside you, before taking such a risk. They’ll let you know if your idea is risky but worth it, or if you’ve simply come down with a case of “the desire to commit career/organizational suicide” or the “briefly lost sight of the mission-itis.” Of course one is not obligated to listen to the advice given, but by asking one gets to at least gauge the responses they’ll likely encounter and/or gain some early support from community partners.
Finally, if you are a well-respected person or organization whose mission has nothing to do with vouching for men like Ray Rice and you’re thinking of vouching for someone who’s been violent in the past; 1. make damn well sure they’re actually rehabilitated (or well on the path at least) and 2. have some pretty strong supporting evidence to clearly demonstrate their growth, why they deserve your support and that second chance.
I’m guessing A Call To Men figured these things out pretty quickly last week and I’m willing to bet they won’t make a misstep like this again. To their credit, Porter and Bunch apologized quickly, but now the hard work of regaining trust from their community partners begins. I wish them luck. They do good work and they don’t need self-imposed distractions like this keeping them from it.