Men who physically abuse their romantic partners usually do it behind closed doors.

It's much rarer for them to go off in public, but when they do it is a sickening display.

One day last month Andre Milton, a parolee, was spotted beating his girlfriend and slamming her head against a car on a public street in Ashland. Witnesses alerted 911. When an Alameda County sheriff's deputy intervened, the 36-year-old attacked him. The deputy shot him dead.

In February, Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice was caught on video dragging his apparently unconscious fiancee (now wife), Janay Palmer, out of an elevator at an Atlantic City, New Jersey, hotel. This was after an alleged fight between the two. In a now-viral video leaked to TMZ, Palmer is pictured facedown on the floor while Rice hauls her out of the elevator.

In the first instance, the perpetrator has a long criminal history dating back to 2001. In the second, he is a marquee player in the NFL. It's a reminder that domestic abusers come from all walks of life.

Yet when the alleged abuser is a star running back of the 2013 Super Bowl championship team with the hopes of a franchise riding on his shoulders, there is a rush in some quarters to downplay the seriousness of his violent actions. Dragging an unconscious woman through a hotel elevator? Come on, that's not so bad. Certain Neanderthal sports commentators suggest that women alter their behavior so as not to provoke their partners to commit violence against them. Team officials tell us he's a "heck of a guy."


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Teams fans give him a standing ovation to show their support for what exactly? His indictment for third-degree assault on charges stemming from the abuse incident? Team officials promote all that misguided fan love on the Ravens website. Though of course they never mention the incident that landed their star player in hot water in the first place.

Rice got permission to enter a pretrial diversion program that allows him to avoid formal prosecution. If he completes the one-year program the charges against him will be dismissed.

That is standard punishment for criminal defendants, often when they are first-time offenders.

What is outrageous is the two-game suspension that the NFL handed Rice in response to the domestic violence incident. Players have been suspended for twice as many games for smoking pot. This slap on the wrist has sparked well-deserved criticism of the NFL from all across the country. Rice was also fined about $500,000 out of his $7 million-per-year salary.

I contacted some East Bay organizations that advocate for victims of domestic violence to get their thoughts about the case that has drawn so much national scrutiny.

"I have significant concerns for the message that it sends to everyone, not just battered women," says Gloria Sandoval, CEO of Stand! For Families Free of Violence, a Concord-based nonprofit that provides treatment and other services to women and children affected by domestic violence. "It says that violence against women is not a serious issue and that it can be treated lightly."

Strip away the celebrity factor, the media hype, the NFL running damage control, and you are left with a case with all the classic signs of domestic violence.

The victim blames herself. At a joint news conference with her husband in May, Palmer apologized for "the role I played in the incident that night."

She lobbies the NFL to show leniency on her husband.

She marries her accused abuser almost immediately after he was indicted on domestic violence charges.

"We see this with our clients all the time," said Tina Fernandez, assistant director of community development for Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments (SAVE) in Fremont, which provides shelter, counseling, legal advocacy and other services for battered women. "For an outsider, it goes against reason. But there could be so much going on between the couple that we don't know about."

On Thursday, Rice apologized to his wife at a news conference. "I take full responsibility for my actions," he said. "What happened that night is something I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

Rice's contrite declaration was also classic for a man accused of domestic abuse.

One can only hope that Rice's future behavior toward his wife, whom he referred to as an "angel," mirrors his sincere-sounding words.



Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Tuesday and Sunday. Contact her at tdrummond@bayareanewsgroup.com or follow her at Twitter.com/tammerlin.