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The Caw: Why Ray Rice Takes On Bullying


Like many kids, Ray Rice heard the saying, "Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you."

Well, that's not true. And Rice is making sure the message gets out.

Bullying is a problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16.2 percent of U.S. high school students were electronically bullied during 2011.

Rice is stepping to the forefront of anti-bullying advocacy, including through his foundation and even politically in the state of Maryland.

"Anti-bullying is such a big deal," Rice told this week. "I started doing some research, and I was like, 'This is crazy.' It's happening as we speak. I knew something had to be done."

But why did Rice take on bullying? NFL players are pulled in so many directions, and with as much star power as Rice carries, his words carry a lot of weight in the Baltimore area and even around the country. 

Rice's reasons converged about a year ago.

It began when Deb Poquette, owner of Prestige Lifestyle Management who works with Rice and his foundation, told the running back about how her daughter was being bullied at school.

Then Rice went home to New Rochelle, N.J., during the offseason and his sister, who was in middle school at the time, had stiches under one eye. A rock was thrown at her. It took every ounce of Rice's energy not to hunt down the bully, though he did meet with the principal.

The final straw came last Easter Sunday when 15-year-old Grace McComas of Woodbine, Md., took her own life after months of hateful postings about her on social media sites.

"Words killed this person," Rice said. "It's become an epidemic."

Rice had a foundation, but didn't have a direction with it. After some thought, he decided that bullying would be his cause.

"Some people stand for cancer and diabetes, which I'm all for," Rice said. "But who really stands against bullying? I thought I was in a unique position being a smaller guy and standing up to the giants of the NFL."

The 5-foot-8, 212-pound running back began with an anti-bullying program at Howard High School last year. He hosted an event, "A Ray of Hope" at the Merriweather Post Pavilion last July that attracted about 5,000 people.

Rice struck a relationship with the families of those being harmed. He met McComas's parents backstage at Howard High School. He came into contact with the family of Bailey O'Neill, 12, who was put into a coma by a bully and died weeks later. He spoke with the family for more than 45 minutes over the phone and it rocked Rice emotionally.

"How do you say something to a parent who lost their kid?" Rice said. "That's been the hardest thing for me. I'm telling them I'm there for them, but when I get home it's like, 'Wow, that was tough.'"

Rice has also taken a macro approach to the issue.

Last November, he announced "Ray's Links Of Kindness," an idea to give youth, teachers, and parents a means to express messages of kindness, anti-bullying promises, and positive thoughts through a "Kindness Chain."

His camp has sent out 200,000 purple "Tyvek-type" wristbands to schools upon request. Students can write positive messages, a promise not to bully or anything they want on the links, and send it back to Rice to be part of a chain that will eventually be distributed to other schools for display.

Recently, Rice has taken a political line. He used his Facebook page as a tool to drum up support for "Grace's Law," a new Maryland bill (HB396) that would make cyber bullying a crime. Rice provided written testimony for the bill, which is now headed to the Senate.

"I truly feel like it's a crime if you back somebody into a corner and they feel defenseless," Rice said. "You've just got to raise awareness. You can raise money for charity, but with bullying, it's about raising awareness."

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