We Were Surprised
If you had asked me on Feb. 1 to name five Ravens players I would never expect to receive a call at 3:00 in the morning about doing something illegal, Ray Rice would be on the list – EASILY.
I would have said: "Ray's a good guy. He's smart. He might be the most popular person in our building. Need help with a community event or a player to lift a person in need, especially a child? Ray is one of the guys who says, 'Yes, I'll help.'"
I liked Ray Rice a lot then. I like Ray Rice a lot today.
Clearly Ray has been scrutinized. He has been reviewed in a court of law and in the court of public opinion. The NFL punished Ray Rice with a two-game suspension and a third game check. He will lose 3/17 of his salary.
After a thorough legal review, a New Jersey judge placed Rice in a diversionary program that will allow his record of charges to be expunged if he maintains his good citizenship for a year.
Like many of us, Ray Rice had a moment in his life he wishes he could take back.
But, he can't. He got himself into that situation, and he's paying for it. And, he deserves this public and private flogging and the punishments that have come with it. Ray knows that better than anyone.
Team Owner Steve Bisciotti, our President Dick Cass, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and I all have sons. (Dick and I also each have a daughter.) We know what it is to be a parent. We know what it is to support a child after a mistake. We know the importance of turning the situation around and becoming better. We know turning your back on a loved one in a time of need is not what families do.
Bisciotti Weighs In
When we found out about Ray's punishment during yesterday morning's practice, I told Steve that I wanted to write about Ray Rice and how much respect I have for him. I wasn't sure it was my place or the team's to talk more about Ray right now. I thought the subject was so sensitive to the franchise that I should check with the owner, a man with great insights.
"That's your call," Bisciotti told me. "I don't think Ray needs it, and I don't think you'll change the minds of those who don't want to have anything to do with Ray. ... How sad we all are that he tarnished his image. No one outside, I've learned, can understand how we look at these guys as our sons and close friends as opposed to just employees.
"I saw that clearly when we lost the AFC championship at New England (at the end of the 2011 season)," the owner continued. "I had friends tell me, 'You must hate Lee Evans or Billy Cundiff. They cost you a trip to the Super Bowl.' It was the opposite – we felt for Lee and Billy. I wished that they'd get another chance. I felt the need to protect them like I would one of my sons. It's not like that in my other businesses.
"Don't we all have days or moments or periods in our life we regret? Ray showed great character for the six years I've known him. He has shown remorse after a bad incident. It was out of character. I don't think now is the time to abandon him. You say we are a Ravens' family. I've come to believe that."
What I attempt to do with this blog is lift the veil on the Ravens, try to share with fans some of what takes place that media doesn't see or care to cover. Here are two stories about Rice since the incident with his now wife Janay. I share them not to try to get sympathy for Rice. I share them to let you see what we see.
Two weeks after the casino incident, I came to our Under Armour Performance Center for a racquetball game against former Raven Bennie Thompson. It was a bleak, cloudy Saturday morning. I cut through the mostly dark weight room on my way to the court.
I heard the clang of a weight in the corner. When I looked to see who was there, it was Ray. "What are you doing here?" I asked him and joked that he could turn on the lights.
A subdued Rice said: "I've been trying to come in the building and work out when no one is here. I'm not sure anyone wants to see me. I'm so sorry, and I'm embarrassed. And, I don't want to make any of the women feel uncomfortable."
Rice then told me that he wanted to say something publicly, but I explained that his lawyer had asked us not to say anything and to encourage Ray to do the same. "I've got some notes on things I want to say. I want to apologize," Rice said.
On May 22, Ravens Director Of Player Development Harry Swayne had an expert on bullying, Paul Coughlin, speak to our rookies as part of our continuing education for all of our first-year players. Some of you may be familiar with Coughlin, who regularly is interviewed on national news as a foremost authority on the bullying issue. (In fact, when I talked with Coughlin this morning, he was lecturing to schools in Tanzania – the country – about bullying.)
Coughlin asked Swayne if Rice was in the building on that May day. He was, and the two spent some time together. "I wanted to encourage Ray to continue his campaign against bullying," Coughlin said. "Ray is one of the most prominent and active voices in the anti-bullying movement. I told him that from what I understood about his incident with his wife that it was not a form of bullying. Bullying harms and diminishes life itself. A bully intends to harm and continues to do that. It seemed Ray had a conflict with his wife that he regretted, and when he told me about the counseling he was receiving, I sensed a person who knew he made a mistake and was determined to bounce back."
Swayne remembers the conversation. "When Paul told Ray that he could still and should continue his anti-bullying campaign, tears came to Ray's eyes."
Coughlin recalled the scene: "Ray did tear up. Maybe it was the first time that he felt hope and redemption since the incident. Maybe he's a person who does want to help and didn't think anyone would listen. I sensed a change in his countenance."
When I told Bisciotti at the end of our conversation yesterday that "I think I am going to write that blog about Ray," Steve smiled and said: "Is it a flaw for us that we support our players in tough times? If it is, I'm OK with that."
So am I.
Talk with you next week. I promise it will be about football.