Running back Ray Rice was suspended Thursday for two games without pay for violating the National Football League's personal-conduct policy, sparking criticism that the penalty was too lenient but also allowing the Ravens to move on from a tumultuous offseason.
Rice, who was accused of striking his fiancee, Janay Palmer, now his wife, and rendering her unconscious during an altercation in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino in February, also was fined an additional game check, bringing his total lost wages to over $529,000. Rice was one of five Ravens who were arrested this offseason, but he is the only player expected to be disciplined by the league.
“It is disappointing that I will not be with my teammates for the first two games of the season, but that's my fault,” said Rice in a statement released by the team.
“As I said earlier, I failed in many ways. But, Janay and I have learned from this. We have become better as a couple and as parents. I am better because of everything we have experienced since that night. The counseling has helped tremendously.”
Rice wouldn't address the suspension with reporters as he walked off the field Thursday following the Ravens' first full-team workout of training camp.
Rice, 27, has three days to appeal NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's decision, but it would be surprising if he did, considering the ban was far shorter than many around the league expected. As things stand, Rice will be sidelined for divisional games against the Cincinnati Bengals (Sept. 7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (Sept. 11).
“While not having Ray for the first two games is significant to our team, we respect the league's decision and believe it is fair,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “We also respect the efforts Ray has made to become the best partner and father he can be. That night was not typical of the Ray Rice we know and respect. We believe that he will not let that one night define who he is, and he is determined to make sure something like this never happens again.”
Goodell's decision drew a sharp rebuke from several ex-players, including Rice's former teammate Derrick Mason, and from the national media. Outlets including ESPN, Sports Illustrated and USA Today cited the ruling as proof that the NFL doesn't take domestic violence seriously enough.
Mason, the Ravens' all-time leading receiver and a friend of Rice's, believed that Rice deserved a bigger punishment.
“Sometimes good people make bad decisions. I know he's learned from it, but I think the NFL needs to take a harsher stance toward domestic violence,” Mason said. “When you suspend a guy for six games for marijuana or [performance-enhancing drugs], you should take at least that approach toward domestic violence. To come back and say, ‘It's going to be two games and he can appeal it,' then those women that follow football start to wonder if the NFL condones violence against women. We know they don't, but the punishment doesn't [reflect] that.”
Michaele Cohen, executive director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, wouldn't comment on Rice's specific punishment, but she said that the NFL had a great opportunity to make a stance on the issue.
“It seems to me that either today or in the future, teams and the leagues and all sports, not just football, need to say this is serious, and that they take this seriously, and the people that work for them need to take this seriously,” Cohen said. “People look up to them, they see them as role models, and they need to see this as not acceptable behavior. Fans need to see this, and young people need to see that.”
The Ravens learned of the suspension Thursday morning. Before he left the practice field, Rice spoke with Ravens team president Dick Cass and owner Steve Bisciotti, who hugged the three-time Pro Bowl running back.
“We said from the beginning the circumstances would determine the consequences,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray — he's a heck of a guy. He's done everything right since. He makes a mistake; he's going to have to pay a consequence. That's good for kids to understand that it works that way.”
During Thursday's practice, Rice greeted several children from Baltimore's Goodnow Community Center who were wearing his jersey and yelling his name from a set of bleachers behind the end zone.
“My goal is to earn back the trust of the people, especially the children, I let down because of this incident,” Rice said in the statement. “I am a role model and I take that responsibility seriously. My actions going forward will show that.”
Rice and his wife met with Goodell more than five weeks ago at the league's New York City headquarters and were questioned about their physical altercation. Rice was charged with felony aggravated assault, but in May, he was accepted into a pretrial intervention program that allowed him to avoid jail time and could lead to the charge's being eliminated from his record.
In his letter to Rice informing him of his decision, Goodell reiterated to Rice that his conduct on that evening was “inconsistent with league policies and the standard of behavior required of everyone who is part of the NFL.” The commissioner also said that he expected Rice to continue to take advantage of counseling and other professional services.
“We simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game,” Goodell wrote. “This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.”
Even though Rice was a first-time offender and previously had a strong off-the-field reputation for his community and charitable work, there were many in NFL circles who speculated that Rice could be facing a far lengthier suspension. The second violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy is an automatic four-game suspension.
Several players involved in domestic violence incidents, including former Ravens defensive backs Cary Williams and Fabian Washington, were given suspensions ranging from one to three games. Rice's case, however, was a higher-profile incident and also included video evidence. TMZ published a video in February of Rice dragging Palmer, apparently unconscious, out of the casino elevator.
Rice was never convicted of a crime, though that — or even being charged or arrested — is not required to be disciplined for a violation of the league's personal-conduct policy.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was initially given a six-game suspension in 2010 after he was accused a second time of sexual assault. Charges were dropped in the case, and he ultimately served a four-game ban.
Rice will be allowed to play in the Ravens' four preseason games. If he does not appeal, his ban will begin on Aug. 30 and he'd be eligible for reinstatement on Friday, Sept. 12, the day after the Steelers game.
Rice is coming off the least productive season since becoming the Ravens' starting running back in 2009. While he serves the suspension, third-year pro Bernard Pierce is expected to start, with veteran Justin Forsett and Taliaferro in the mix as well.
“It's a lot of responsibility to be in this position, and Ray understands that better than anybody else,” said wide receiver Torrey Smith, one of Rice's closest friends on the team.
“People are going to try to view him differently but I know how Ray is as a person, and I know how Janay is, and they're working to improve on everything. I'll be glad when those two games are up, not only so we can have him back, which is the least of my worries, but you know, to kind of close the final chapter for him.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Jon Meoli and Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.