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Editorial

Reckless and callous [Editorial]

The Ravens insist they had not seen the video taken by an Atlantic City casino elevator security camera showing Ray Rice knock out his then-fiancée, now wife, Janay Palmer, until it was posted Monday morning by the website tmz.com. Ditto the National Football League. Thus, we are expected to believe, these two organizations were just as shocked and appalled as the general public at the sight of the 206-pound running back punching Ms. Palmer with his left fist so forcefully that it knocked her off her feet, into the handrail at the side of the elevator they were riding, and then to the floor. So shocked, in fact, that the team, which had previously expressed nothing but support for Mr. Rice, would immediately release him from his contract, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who had previously insisted that his new, tougher stance on domestic violence would not apply to Mr. Rice, would suspend him indefinitely.

We find it somewhat difficult to believe that tmz was able to get a copy of the video while the NFL and the Ravens, presumably with the ability to demand Mr. Rice’s cooperation, were not. But it doesn’t really matter. What did they think happened on that elevator?

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The video does not provide us with any new facts about this incident. We have long known that in the early morning hours of Feb. 15, Ms. Palmer and Mr. Rice entered an elevator in the now defunct Revel Casino in Atlantic City, that the two had an altercation, and that Mr. Rice struck her, rendering her unconscious. Those facts were plainly stated in the official complaint against Mr. Rice in New Jersey. We, the NFL and the Ravens did not need video evidence to know that when a man knocks a woman unconscious, it is grotesque and horrifying. That is what domestic violence is.

Yet until today, the league, the Ravens and many fans were willing to suspend their good judgment about what we must have known intuitively to be true. Mr. Goodell initially defended his decision to apply a punishment for domestic violence that was less severe than some players have received for smoking marijuana. He only admitted he had been wrong and established tougher penalties for future cases after a massive public outcry. The Ravens — including owner Steve Bisciotti, General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Coach John Harbaugh — have repeatedly defended and supported Mr. Rice during the last six months. And Ravens fans gave Mr. Rice a standing ovation when he took to the field for the first time this year in a pre-season game.

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Such support is now inconceivable because we can no longer pretend that Mr. Rice’s actions that night were anything other than what they were: sickening violence and callous indifference to the damage he had wrought. The video is a bit grainy, but this much is clear: After the two enter the elevator, Ms. Palmer presses a button, the two exchange some words, and then some shoving. Ms. Palmer rushes at Mr. Rice, but before she can reach him at the other side of the elevator, he throws a single punch that sends her tumbling to the ground where she lies, unresponsive.

What happens next only makes matters worse. Mr. Rice does not kneel to comfort her, or to check on her injuries. He waits until the elevator doors open and then lifts her limp form from under the shoulders and tries to drag her from the elevator. He leaves her face-down, half in and half out of the elevator and at one point nudges her with his foot as if to see whether she might be roused. A man who appears to be a security guard arrives, and Mr. Rice manages to get her into a sitting position in the elevator doorway, and he paces in the periphery of the screen as she sits crumpled on the ground.

There is no doubt that law enforcement officials in New Jersey had seen all of this, yet they permitted Mr. Rice to enter a pretrial diversion program that could eventually result in all charges being erased from his record. We do not dispute the value of the counseling Mr. Rice and Ms. Palmer must complete as a result nor do we discount the possibility that the two could move on from this incident. But we certainly question prosecutors’ willingness to agree to a deal that could, from a legal standpoint, erase it from the record.

As for the Ravens, they remained supportive of Mr. Rice after an earlier video surfaced, showing the scene outside of the elevator as Mr. Rice dragged Ms. Palmer into the corridor and dumped her as if she were a sack of flour. At the time, Mr. Harbaugh, in discussing the arrests of Mr. Rice and several other Ravens during the off-season, said that “redemption is something we think is important,” adding, “If there's ever a point in time when we feel like that person has lost value for our team, really it starts with football, or because of their character they're no longer what we want to have be a part of us, then you move on from those guys.” In July, he said of Mr. Rice, “When your family member has a problem, you do not unilaterally abandon them.”

On Monday, the Ravens dumped him and announced it on Twitter.

For all Mr. Harbaugh’s talk of character and family, the Ravens are a business. They supported Mr. Rice when they thought he still added value to the team. Now, no amount of on-field talent can make up for the revulsion Ravens fans will feel when they remember the sight of his left fist smashing into Ms. Palmer’s face. If team officials really hadn’t seen the video until Monday, their unwavering support for Mr. Rice was reckless, in that they had to assume that it would have come out eventually, and callous, in that they knew all the pertinent facts about what happened in the elevator without having seen it. Evidently the Ravens can stomach having a player who would knock a woman down and then treat her with all the care he would give to a sack of flour — just so long as the public doesn’t see it.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.


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