Eisenberg: People Will Believe What They Want To Believe

While working on a book of Orioles history awhile back, I interviewed a pair of former players about the same off-field incident. It was Steve Barber and Milt Pappas, if you must know.

Their recollections of the incident were so different it almost seemed they were describing different events. I was shocked. Which version was right? Where did the truth lie? I tried other sources, but never got to the bottom of it. These two guys just saw things differently.

It was, for me, a powerful lesson in the ambiguousness of the truth.

We're taught to believe it's an absolute; that the truth is a mighty fortress; that there's always a single, unassailable version of what happened. But everyone has their own, distinct frame of reference, informed by their values, histories, beliefs, attitudes and perceptions. Those differences can be profound and lead people to see the same events differently. What's true isn't always so easily identifiable.

In the case of the two Orioles, all I could do was present both sides and let readers decide what they believed. I think that's where we are now with the saga of Ray Rice, the Ravens and who knew what, when and why.

Since Sept. 8, when the Ravens cut Rice after TMZ released a disturbing video of him striking* *his then fiancé in a casino elevator, the Ravens have put out their version of why they did what they did, what they knew and when they knew it.

Last week, a drastically different version of those events, critical and challenging of the Ravens, appeared in an "Outside the Lines" report on ESPN. On Monday, the Ravens responded to that report. The team released a point-by-point rebuttal. Owner Steve Bisciotti sat alone on a stage and took questions for 49 minutes. He was aggressive, even fiery, but also humble. When his PR team tried to conclude the questioning, he asked to keep going.

I thought he came off as authentic. He told you where he and his team went wrong, and why. He assessed the damage, defended himself, yet admitted his fondness for Rice, knowing that won't win him any PR points. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should be so genuine.

When ESPN responded to his rebuttal, refuting some of his points, we officially crossed over to the ping-pong stage of the saga, with the sides going back and forth. Which version is right? Where does the truth lie? As I learned in the case of the two Orioles, your answer to those questions might differ from the person sitting next to you, depending on your values, history and beliefs – your frame of reference.

As Bisciotti himself said Monday, people are going to believe what they want to believe.

No one is covered in glory here. Rice struck his now-wife, the mother of his child. The Ravens have admitted they erred badly in letting their fondness for Rice cloud their judgment as they reacted to the incident. "We heard what we wanted to hear," Bisciotti said Monday. "We loved Ray Rice for six years. We gave him the benefit of the doubt based on seeing him as a responsible young man who did a lot of good on and off the field."

Honestly, I'm not sure any NFL team would have reacted differently once they decided to back their player in trouble rather than cast him aside. The Ravens are getting crushed now for supporting the idea of limiting any legal price Rice would have to pay, but in my opinion, for them, backing him in the first place was the core mistake, and that decision was based – sadly – on what, until then, was the common reaction to domestic violence cases in the NFL: that you could basically make it go away.

The best thing to come out of this sad situation is there's going to be a new common reaction to domestic violence cases in the NFL from now on, one far more attuned to the searing societal problem it is.

The story isn't going away anytime soon, of course. Rice has filed an appeal to have his indefinite league suspension lifted. I think he's got a shot. The Ravens will soon be questioned by Robert Mueller, a former head of the FBI who is heading up the NFL's investigation into what happened.

In other words, things are going to keep getting louder, but I don't know that they're going to get any clearer. When you aren't in a court of law, it's hard to get to the bottom of things when people disagree over what happened. Like a piece of art, the truth can look different from different angles, depending on your perspective.

You can only offer your version, supported by the facts as you see them, and hope that people believe you while understanding some never will.

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