The Ravens didn't really have a choice, but they did the right thing when they cut Ray Rice on Monday, hours after an appalling inside-the-elevator video of his domestic violence incident went viral.
They certainly couldn't stand idly by. Doing nothing would have been tantamount to condoning the abuse shown on the video posted by TMZ. Several of Rice's teammates said they were shocked by what they saw. The violence reflected what was in the police report of the incident, but rightly or not, this is also a story about the power of video. Seeing it proved far more stomach-turning, as Rice's teammates noted.
The Ravens also could have responded by padding the controversial two-game ban NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gave Rice, perhaps suspending him on their own for the 2014 season. (Goodell certainly was happy to pile on, suspending Rice indefinitely shortly after the Ravens cut him.) But the situation would have festered, hung over the Ravens like a dark cloud.
After the posting of that video, having Rice on the roster, even suspended, wasn't an appropriate message any team should want to send to its fans.
There's no place in society for men striking women. If any good has come out of this sad situation, it's that bright lights have been shed on the depth of a terrible problem.
Fundamentally, I'm not sure about leaving it to sports leagues and teams to solve society's ills. But to make any difference going forward in an issue that did become theirs, the Ravens' only option was to man up, not look to the league to run interference, show exactly where they stand and cut ties with Rice, demonstrating what behavior they wouldn't tolerate.
For months after the incident, which took place in February, the Ravens sought to have it both ways, supporting Rice while criticizing his actions. It was a fine line they could walk because a first video posted by TMZ shortly after the incident only showed what happened after Rice and his fiancé (now wife) were alone in a New Jersey casino elevator.
That video also was disturbing, and the Ravens took a ton of heat for their position. But Art Modell, the team's former owner, was adamant about giving second chances and supporting your own, going back to his days in Cleveland. Modell took plenty of heat for backing players in trouble. The idea is deeply embedded in the franchise's DNA, and the Ravens opted to believe in the upstanding Rice they knew for six years, as opposed to the one on the video. You could hear echoes of Modell, who died last year, when Head Coach John Harbaugh said "none of us would want to be judged by our lowest moment."
Regardless if the Ravens' reaction was appropriate, they had no fine line to traverse once the second, far more graphic video surfaced Monday, showing exactly what happened in that elevator. At the risk of being presumptuous, I severely doubt Modell would have tolerated it. Who would? The Ravens had to respond.
Some are saying they did so only because their brand is under siege. I see more nuance than that. They have a longstanding relationship with their fans, who want a winner but also want a team they can feel good about supporting. An organization should know when it is asking too much of its public. The Ravens saw they were at that point when the second TMZ video surfaced.
I think a lot of Ravens' fans are relieved. When Rice wasn't booed at an open practice in August, venom spewed online about the Ravens' entire fan base being fine with domestic violence. Please. Most fans I know were struggling with Rice still being on the team; most of the women had put away their Rice jerseys. Like all fans everywhere, they want to believe in the players they cheer for, but this was a problem.
Though cutting Rice brings down the curtain, the situation will continue to fester in other, less important ways, costing the Ravens against the salary cap and on the depth chart – concerns that usually trump all others. But this time, once the second video was up for all to see,* *the Ravens' only option was to be concerned with making the right decision. I think they did.