On Sunday, the Ravens will recognize Ray Rice as the Legend of the Game.
Rice was a three-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion during his six years with the Ravens – one of the team's most dynamic running backs in franchise history.
In 2014, Rice's incident ended his career and put him in the center of a national conversation about domestic violence.
Rice is being recognized for the player he was, and for the redemption he has worked towards. Out of the public eye, Rice has been working on himself, his relationship, and within the community.
Rice helped the Ravens win their second Super Bowl in 2013. He totaled more than 2,000 total yards in two seasons and topped more than 1,000 rushing yards in four straight years (2009-2012).
Rice's determination as a player was perhaps never better illustrated than on a 4th-and-29 conversion on a checkdown against the then San Diego Chargers during the Ravens' Super Bowl season, a play nicknamed "Hey Diddle Diddle, Ray Rice Up the Middle."
Baltimore's embrace of him went beyond that. He was gregarious, with a smile that could light the Inner Harbor. He gave back to the community, and especially to kids. Anybody who spent time with Rice felt like they knew him and liked him.
That night in 2014 shook that perception, and Rice takes full responsibility and accountability. At that point, the determination he showed as a player was called on to try to build himself back up.
"I truly understand why I was let go and why so many hearts changed. But hopefully people can see where I'm at now. They say people can change, right? I am not the same person I was 10-12 years ago. That's just not who I am," Rice said.
"Every time I stepped on the field, I gave it my all. But I couldn't say the same for life. Now I'm trying to be the best version of me."
Rice and his then fiancée, Janay Palmer, have now been married for nearly 10 years. They have two kids, Rayven (11) and Jaylen (7), and recently moved back to the Baltimore area full-time. Rice coaches two youth football teams, the 13U and 7U Pikesville Wildcats.
"Raising my kids here, I can't call it a Super Bowl, but it will be a surreal moment," Rice said. "I want people to really see me. I'm still standing. I'm still going to be strong. I'm still going to help as many people as I can. I'm still going to be a man in the community."
In 2019, Rice launched a non-profit organization helping underprivileged kids in Baltimore and back where he grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., providing them with toys, sports equipment, peer-to-peer mentoring, and other needs.
He launched it after visiting a group home and a correctional officer said the kids there were in a pipeline to prison. Rice's organization is called Pipeline 2 Prosperity.
"I know what it feels like to feel like you ain't worth it no more," Rice said. "That's what made me more passionate about a second chance. You just don't throw people away.
"A lot of things I had to overcome came out of me being at my lowest. It's a daily grind. It's daily work. But there's real purpose behind that. At the end of the day, I did something very wrong. I didn't deserve anything in my life when it happened. My second chance was with my family."
After the incident, Rice did a lot of learning about himself and domestic violence, speaking with numerous mental health professionals, experts in the field, and survivors to hear their stories. He dove into his own root issues, including growing up in a house with abuse.
Among the groups Rice worked with was the Childhood Domestic Violence Association and A Call to Men. He applauded the work of those in the field of domestic violence, such as Baltimore’s House of Ruth, who the Ravens have donated more than $2 million to since 2014.
"Fantastic back. Versatile and productive. Tough as nails. And clutch. Great teammate. Ray's on field accolades speak for themselves," Ravens President Sashi Brown said.
"He was also consistently in the community, giving back. Importantly, after Ray's incident he owned it. On his own accord, Ray undertook critical work within himself and to bring awareness to and educate others on domestic violence. Nothing will change his past or make it right, but Ray's work has allowed him to atone for his actions and rebuild relationships personally and professionally, including with the Ravens."
Rice has spoken to more than a dozen NFL and college teams to share his story, including the Ravens. He speaks to the team's rookies at their annual educational seminar. When Rice shares his story, he hopes he can make a positive impact on young men so they don't make the same mistake.
"I knew it would be hard to forgive me, but the one thing I have been consistent with was that I was going to be better. I'm not going to be a victim of my past," Rice said. "My legacy won't be domestic violence. My legacy will be what I became after."