Dan Hill, a Washington-based crisis communications expert, said while there is public pressure for Rice to be contrite and offer an explanation or apology, his lawyers likely want to restrict comment as they look out for his best interests in the pending criminal case.

"When you show contrition, you're admitting that you did wrong, which makes [the lawyer's] job a lot harder," said Hill, president of Ervin Hill Strategy.

The case has generated considerable discussion online and on talk radio.

Sandi Timmins, executive director of House of Ruth Maryland, said she could not comment directly on the Rice case because "we still don't know all the facts." But when public figures are associated with allegations of partner abuse, her organization tries to bring perspective to the ensuing dialogue.

"What we see in social media right now is the rather typical view that what happens between people in a relationship is private, and it's not our place to get involved," Timmins said. "That's an issue we feel very strongly about. And we feel it's important to say that violence of any type in a partner relationship is not acceptable."

She said House of Ruth Maryland responded to the interest in the Rice case by posting discussion questions on its Facebook page, hoping to shape the public conversation.

Timmins noted that one woman in four is involved in an abusive relationship at some point, a prevalence that surprises many people. In that context, she said, it's not surprising that public figures are sometimes involved.

"The issue is so prevalent that we need to talk about it and never hide it or excuse it," she said.

Michaele Cohen, executive director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, said she hoped that this could be a teaching moment for all athletes, professional sports teams and their fans, regardless of the outcome.

"This is an opportunity for the athletic world to look at the situation and see that this is not an isolated situation," she said. "And I hope that those in organized sports look at it as something they need to address."

Rice bowed out of a charity event scheduled for Friday with the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The nonprofit had been advertising Rice's appearance at the kickoff party for its annual March of Animals event, but said he would be replaced by Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata.

An MDSPCA spokeswoman said it was a mutual decision between the organization and Rice, because they didn't want to take the focus off the animals and the cause.

Baltimore Sun reporters Justin George, Aaron Wilson, Childs Walker and Matt Vensel contributed to this article.

jfenton@baltsun.com