Composed and seemingly contrite, Ravens running back Ray Rice apologized to his wife, Janay, and insisted that their physical altercation in February was a one-time incident from which he has grown. He also vowed to become a vocal advocate against domestic violence when the time is right.
Taking questions from reporters Thursday for the first time since he was arrested and accused of striking his then-fiancee unconscious at an Atlantic City, N.J., casino in February, Rice said many of the things that people hoped to hear when he broke his silence in May.
“My actions that night were totally inexcusable,” Rice said in Thursday's news conference, held after the team's training camp practice. “That night, I just replay over and over in my head. That's not me. My actions were inexcusable, and that's something I have to live with the rest of my life.”
As Rice and the Ravens aimed to close this chapter, three U.S. senators sent letters Thursday to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome urging them to increase the league's two-game suspension of Rice and to better address domestic violence.
Rice and the suspension levied last week have dominated the NFL headlines early in training camp, with the league and the Ravens organization receiving widespread criticism for their handling of the situation.
Thursday's news conference, which marked the first time Rice has spoken publicly since the suspension was announced last week, brought national media outlets including CNN, ESPN and CBS to the Ravens' Owings Mills training facility.
With his wife watching from the balcony above and about 25 of his teammates standing behind the assembled media, Rice, 27, spoke for more than 17 minutes. He wouldn't discuss the details of what happened in the elevator on the February night, his actions resulting in a felony aggravated-assault charge. Rice ultimately was accepted into a diversionary program that allowed him to avoid jail time and potentially get the charge expunged from his record.
“I just don't want to keep reliving the incident,” Rice said. “I'm trying to move forward, and every time I have to keep reliving it, it doesn't bring any good to me. … I take full responsibility for what happened. My wife can do no wrong. What happened that night was something that should've never happened.”
Because of the suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy, Rice, will be sidelined for regular-season games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers and lose approximately $529,000 in wages. Still, Goodell, who is scheduled to speak to reporters today in Canton, Ohio, as part of Hall of Fame induction weekend, has been accused of being far too lenient with Rice and on domestic violence as a whole.
The letter sent to the commissioner Thursday by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said “the decision to suspend Mr. Rice for a mere two games sends the inescapable message that the NFL does not take domestic or intimate-partner violence with the seriousness they deserve. As has been widely pointed out, the NFL has imposed longer suspensions for offenses such as non-violent breaches of banned-substances policies and breaking NCAA rules by selling memorabilia. Both on its own and in comparison to these other cases, Mr. Rice's suspension reflects a disturbingly lenient, even cavalier attitude towards violence against women.”
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, “We look forward to responding to the letter.” A Ravens official said the team was aware of the letter.
The NFL has also been criticized for having Palmer with Rice when he met with Goodell in mid-June. According to a league source, the NFL was told that she would be attending by Heather McPhee, a general counsel for the NFL Players Association. McPhee also participated.
Rice said Thursday that he was ready to accept whatever punishment the NFL decided on.
“I don't have any control over what the punishment was. I'm being punished on a day-to-day basis,” Rice said. “No football games or no money was going to determine what I have to live with for the rest of my life. ... It hurts me that I can't go out there and play football, but it hurts more that I've got to be a father and explain what happened to my [2-year-old] daughter. I think the punishment was the punishment, and I never planned on appealing. Whether it's two games, four games, six games, eight games, I'm trying to own my actions and be a man about it and take whatever is given to me.”
Rice's reputation around the NFL and in Baltimore, where he was considered one of the city's most charitable and popular sports figures, has taken a major hit. Though the three-time Pro Bowl selection has been cheered during training camp practices, plenty of other fans have thrown away his jersey and vowed not to root for him again. Some have criticized the way the team has sought to quickly rebuild Rice's image and for its steadfast support of him.
“People aren't going to forget,” said Juda S. Engelmayer, the senior vice president and head of crisis communications for New York-based 5WPR. “We have a football player who was arrested for domestic violence. People won't forget about it. People will keep it in the back of their minds. If he missteps again, it will have grave repercussions.”
Alex Ciccone, a 28-year-old Ravens fan from Baltimore, was checking the updates from Rice's news conference from her phone Thursday. She said she doesn't condone Rice's actions but that she plans to continue to root for him.
“I still have his jersey. I still wear his jersey. I did not buy it at the discount rack after the scandal,” Ciccone said. “He's a great player. He's good for the community. It was just a snafu in his personal life.
“We're Baltimore. Of course [people are] going to be hard on him this season. That's what we do.”
Rice acknowledged that he has earned the scrutiny and that he is prepared for the worst. His actions Thursday certainly were better received than his highly scrutinized news conference in May when Rice didn't take questions, uncomfortably scrolled down his phone, made an ill-timed analogy about being knocked down and, perhaps most damaging, failed to apologize to his wife who was seated next to him.
Thursday, Rice had a notecard of talking points but put it in his pocket shortly after he started speaking. He kept his emotions in check and made eye contact with questioners. He was emphatic when he was asked if his February arrest was the first time he'd been involved in a domestic incident.
“I've never had a problem with domestic abuse,” he said. “This was a one-time incident.”
Rice also apologized to his wife during his opening statement.
“I realize that hit home with a lot of people,” Rice said of not apologizing to her in his May news conference. “There are many nights that me and my wife sleep together and we still have to deal with this. Her pain is my pain; my pain is her pain. But one thing that I wanted to do today was apologize to my wife, who I've known since high school.”
Rice and his wife, who were married the day after his indictment, have been getting counseling and therapy since the incident. He said that it has helped a lot but acknowledged that there are still steps that he has to take. When the time is right, Rice said, he and his wife will go out and try to help people who have been affected by domestic violence. Before the incident, Rice was a vocal anti-bullying advocate.
“I'm still going to go out there and be me. People might think that this is going to change who I am,” Rice said. “I know what I'm not. I know that I love kids, I know that I love helping people, and I know that I will go out there and be an ambassador for domestic violence to make sure that nobody else has to go through what I went through or what me and my wife went through.”
Sandi Timmins, executive director of the House of Ruth of Maryland, a Baltimore-based organization that provides services for women and children affected by domestic violence, expressed hope that Rice takes an “active stand in the work that is being done to end intimate partner violence.”
“He is in a unique position to use his influence to let men know that this kind of behavior is unacceptable and that it is not acceptable to be a bully in a relationship,” Timmins said. “… We look forward to the time that Mr. Rice is ready to turn this experience into a positive in our community and nationally.”
Rice's last of several apologies went out to domestic violence victims and “anybody who's been through anything I've been through.”
He then walked away from the microphone and through the crowd of reporters. On his way back to the locker room, he hugged several of his teammates, including Torrey Smith. The wide receiver has been vocal in his support of Rice, and he organized the group of Ravens players who came out to watch the news conference.
“We all make mistakes. I mean, I've made mistakes in the past,” said linebacker Elvis Dumervil. “In life, people go through things; it's a learning curve. We're all humans.”
Rice credited his teammates for “helping me through the process.”
“These are the guys that I can lean on every day for not only moral support, but just to come out here and keep me focused, keep me motivated,” he said. “And to see me not only as a brother, but also as a great friend.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Aaron Wilson, Jon Meoli and Aaron Dodson contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun