One of the perks of teaching writing is that one is surrounded by examples that can be pressed into service to prove a point. For instance, I tell my students that in many cases, passive voice is cowardly language. Why? Well, let's take the example of beloved Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his coach, John Harbaugh (who, it's worth noting, is considered to be the non-asshole Harbaugh brother).

Ray Rice, you may recall, beat his then-fiance (now his wife, which I'm sure has nothing to do with a wife not being compelled to testify against her husband) unconscious in an elevator. Recently, the NFL brought the hammer down on Rice by suspending him for two games. Yes, that's a terrifyingly harsh punishment—nearly as long a suspension as one might get for taking unapproved cough medicine—but hey, gotta send a message.

Today, John Harbaugh (remember, he's the non-asshole) spoke out on behalf of his player. See if you can spot the passive and active voices in the quotation:

"I hate what happened. What happened was wrong. Flat out. The thing I appreciate about it is how Ray has handled it afterward by acknowledging it was wrong and he'll do everything he can do to make it right. That's what you ask for when someone does a wrong thing. So, I'm proud of him for that."


Yes, what happened was bad. Mistakes were made. No need for a proper subject in those sentences. On the other hand, Ray has done a wonderful job of handling things since. Ray recognized it (not he, it) was wrong, and Ray has done everything right since then.

Great job, Ray, even though some people who don't know what forgiveness means won't recognize all you've done. And when it comes right down to it, aren't the people who refuse to forgive the real bad guys in this story?

ETA: To be clear, he's not celebrating domestic violence. But he is using language in a way that, intentionally or not, serves to shift the focus from what Rice did to how Rice has responded to getting in trouble for what he did.


EETA: I looked at the first part of Harbaugh's statement again, and I was wrong on the specifics—it's not exactly passive-voice (To use a different, less loaded example, it's grammatically similar to "The car is red"), although it is, I would say, language that obscures.