The Baltimore Sun talked to former Ravens running back Ray Rice about his time in Baltimore and what he learned about himself this past year. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Former Ravens star running back Ray Rice remains a free agent one year after his high-profile domestic violence incident.
Rice hasn't visited or worked out for any teams and is hoping for another opportunity in the NFL after the Ravens terminated his $35 million contract last September. Rice was cut after a graphic video surfaced of him knocking out his now-wife, Janay, during an altercation inside an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator.
Former federal judge Barbara S. Jones reinstate Rice in November from an indefinite suspension imposed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who was widely criticized when he initially suspended Rice two games for violating the NFL personal conduct policy.
During a recent hour-long interview with The Baltimore Sun, the three-time Pro Bowl running back discussed several topics.
What are your emotions like about leaving Baltimore as you prepare to move out of the state of Maryland closer to your hometown of New Rochelle, N.Y.?
"Honestly, it's really all love to the fans, to the city. I can't think of one bad thing to say about Baltimore. This city is truly to me one of the greatest cities in the world. It's a city that's very diverse and it made me feel like this was home and it truly was home for me. That's going to be a hard pill to swallow to leave Baltimore like that. Truly, I feel like I have unfinished business here. And the one thing about me I always love to come back and finish what I started. I'm talking about in the community. That's my ultimate goal. When I start something, my goal is to finish it. I didn't finish it on the field. At least I can finish it in the community. I want to come back and continue to do the things I was doing. If it's football, maybe I can do another camp for the kids that come out. I've seen other guys do it. I do want to have an effort to give back to the youth of Baltimore."
Have you gotten involved with House of Ruth? You had said before you wanted to work with them at the appropriate time.
"I think I'm still kind of in the time frame of getting things in order. Not just yet, but we have been there before our incident. We have been there, visited. We've seen what it's all about. We know the seriousness of the issue. It wasn't a surprise to see the House of Ruth step up to the forefront and go on about it. We should have known the seriousness of it."
Do you think any positives can stem from your domestic violence incident and the fallout from that night?
"There's definitely going to be a lot of good that comes out of this. It's an unfortunate situation for me and my wife. It's unfortunate. There's people that go through domestic violence on all different levels. We truly know we had one bad night, but I always preach that one bad decision and your dream can turn into a nightmare. We truly lived it, but now the way to come clean with it is to own it and try to help now. There's no reason that no one should have to go through what me and my wife been through, no one. I take full responsibility for my actions. We take this as a whole, as a family and say, 'How can we help others? How can we prevent this?' Truly, it's just talking. It's all a general conversation is, getting to know your partner and understanding what's right and what's wrong. There are certain things that are just unacceptable and obviously domestic violence, a man on a woman, there's just no place in society for it."
What have you learned this past year from the incident?
"I learned so much about myself this year. This year, honestly, I learned when things go wrong sometimes you can't just jump out to the forefront and try to fix it. You have to be patient and this year I learned what patience was all about. Patience this year was key because there were times when I didn't know how to be patient. My life was just a whirlwind. My life was as an NFL football player where everything is scheduled out, practice, games, travel, time I was going to be home. You're talking about patience. It really took a lot of patience. I also learned a lot about myself that I didn't know. That's when the counseling came in, Dr. Paul Ball really took me in and what I would call stripping me of myself. There were things you learn about yourself that you probably thought you were doing right, but you're not. One simple thing he taught me how to do was to love all over again. Sometimes, the love that we show because we're athletes is not real love. We want to show love in material things. Just a simple hug your wife, kiss your wife, tell her you love her, date night. I was giving so much of myself to football, other things, community, my family was always on the back burner. It's tough. You have to learn how to balance things. You multiply that by seven years of my wife being the sacrificial piece.
"You're talking about a frustrated woman. She's not saying it because she loves me and she wants to see me succeed on the field. I realized as much as I was succeeding on the field I was failing myself at home because my priorities and time management weren't where they needed to be as far as being a great father, a great husband, everything else. I think it's a situation where a simple tool Dr. Ball has taught me, he's taught me how to love. He taught me how to love other things and not material things. That was key. We all like nice things in the NFL. We all love them. We all love applause, we all love praise. Not everybody loves boos and I dealt with a lot of them. You know what, it was humbling for me because every good deed I had done in my life totally went out the door with one bad mistake. That was the most humbling situation to see people talk about you who don't know who you are. It didn't matter, but that's the situation I put myself in. It was like an ongoing soap opera that was never going to end."
What's it like for you to be associated with domestic violence since this incident?
"It's tough, I realize that's a battle I'm going to have to face for the rest of my life. There's people who are stuck in one way and there's people who have a different approach of things. My time in Baltimore I received more, 'We've got your back' and words of motivation than kicking a man when he's down. I feel like time heals everything. I think this issue is just a little different, but time does heal everything. There's an old saying people tend to forget, but I don't think people are going to forget this. I just think people are going to look at what I do with my life going forward. That's the approach I'm going to take. I want people to not forget about the incident, but I want people to see there's a human being on the other side. This is not a monster, a guy who's a repeat offender. I'm not the guy they stereotype me to be.
"I want them to see the other guy. Just as much attention as everybody paid to the incident, maybe they'll pay more attention to the person now and get to know me for who I am as a person and try to humanize it for one second. I'm not excusing what I did. If you're going to take the time to criticize, well now that time has passed, take the time to get to know the person because then you'll find out a lot about me that you probably never knew. The situation was a learning lesson for everybody. I have no grudges. You can't hold grudges. No matter what it may seem or how it may happen, it happened. Everything goes full circle. Anything you want to hold in isn't good for you. I surely can't hold any grudges. I have to keep going forward and keep my heart where it's at."
Are you optimistic that you'll eventually get a second chance in the NFL and why do you feel like you deserve one?
"I'm optimistic that I'll get a second chance. I don't think this boils down to whether I can play football or not. Obviously I know that. I just think there's so much more that comes with it. I know the PR side of it will be tough. I understand that. I just know that if a team that really truly genuinely looks at me and understood that this guy made a horrible mistake then they can structure a plan for me. I don't like to be singled out, I like to be part of the team, if they can understand that I'll do anything to help the situation and go out and give them the best football I got, I think I'll get a second chance."
Does the return to the NFL of Michael Vick and Richie Incognito after their off-field problems encourage you to think you'll eventually be back in the league?
"Yeah the thing with me is I really think about this whole thing and I don't want my career to be defined by this one moment. That's the one thing I don't need, I've been smart, as much as it's money, the NFL is a great-paying game, I really want to get back out there for my pride and to be able to leave the game with dignity. I don't ever want to feel exiled out because I was not that guy. I look at the whole thing and sometimes when you're down and out you look at it and say, 'Man, if I was done, I accomplished this.' I'd be a fool to say I'm not in the best shape of my life, that I took care of myself. This year off was probably a blessing in disguise for me. It probably bought me three good years, or four or five. This is the best I've felt. I've tried to take this year as an injury year except it wasn't my body. I was mentally hurt. It's my job to stay ready because I know I'm not ready to call it quits yet."
Do you feel like you have more good football left in you ?
"I can vouch that. I need somebody else to put their stamp of approval on that."
Would you be willing to split time and not be a starter or be a third-down back primarily?
"Whatever , I know that I can play all three downs. At the same time, I know the load of a running back. Whatever the situation is going to be, I just want to get on the field and contribute. If that door opens for me to be a primary ball carrier, I can do it. If that situation comes to me to do third down, run routes out of the backfield, I've done that.'
What would you tell an NFL head coach or general manager to try to convince them you can be trusted as a part of their organization after this incident?
"First off, I would own my mistake. I would tell them about my mistake. I would let them know all the steps I've done to become a better person and not figure everything out like I was perfect. I would tell them about my counseling. I would tell them about my wife. I can't buy my wife, no matter what. I've known her since high school. There was no money that was going to appease her. If this was that bad of a situation, then my wife wouldn't be with me and I know that and that would have crushed me more than losing football. I would just reassure them that the person that created this, that committed that horrible act of violence that's not the person, that's not who I am."
How is Janay doing, how is your marriage going?
"Me and Janay is doing good. My daughter and everybody it's kind of fitting to be able to spend Valentine's Day and kind of recall the year because that's 365 days of thinking about this weight on our shoulders. Every day gets better. We've had this on our back for 365 days and we've carried our luggage and we've handled it pretty good. We actually had a quiet couple's night. We went out a little bit. Sunday morning, it just felt good to get up, my daughter there, we just kind of lounged around. That was good enough for us."
How much have you leaned on Ravens team chaplain Johnny Shelton during this past year?
"Johnny Shelton has been a very influential part of our life. Me and Janay do have a religious background. It's safe to say your religious background calls in a time of need. I think that's kind of cliché way to do things. What we've done is take a more aggressive approach and made it part of our every-day life, stay faithful in prayer, doing the little things that given your faith and your needs doesn't take a lot of time. Waking up in the morning if your wife is right there, taking a quick prayer with her. Letting your daughter understand the power of prayer. So, making that an every-day part of our life has definitely brought our family closer. We can't bear our own problems on our own at times."
What are your feelings toward NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after the indefinite suspension and him saying that your version of events didn't match up with what was on the video? Do you feel vindicated by former federal judge Barbara S. Jones' decision to reinstate you?
"One thing in life I realize that the only thing you have in life is your word, but I wasn't surprised by him to feel different if he hadn't seen the tape. That's one thing I have the utmost respect for our commissioner. He took a stand. I couldn't deny that he shouldn't have taken a stand. I went there and explained what happened. I guess visual and actually hearing it is obviously two different things. That was a long process. Everybody learned throughout the process and that's where I think the growth of the NFL is only going to get better now. He's our commissioner and it was different for everybody. I have the utmost respect for Roger Goodell because in the hearing I was able to look him in the eyes and he humanized it for me a little bit. I think he understood this was very uncharacteristic of me. That's what I got from it. Whatever punishment I would receive after that, that was out of my hands, that's when the whole due process had to do, but I looked him in the eye. I knew that this incident was unlike me.
"I hate, for all of us, I think the situation got so much play because people couldn't understand how could this good guy do so wrong. If it was somebody who had already been convicted of something and been in any kind of trouble it wouldn't have shocked. The video was shocking. They would have been like, 'This guy's already been in trouble.' With me, I had a clean slate. I think the fact that I was clean it amplified the effect of everything else that happened. It was definitely uncharacteristic of us."
What did it mean to you that Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome backed up your story during the reinstatement hearing and said that you did admit hitting Janay during the June meeting with Roger Goodell?
"As much as I want to call it backing me up and vouching for me, it was just Ozzie being Ozzie. He's a straightforward guy. Ozzie never lied to me. I think anybody who knows Ozzie he's probably the most honest and faithful guy, but he will tell you the truth. As hard as it was for him to call me that day and tell me my contract was being terminated, that's Ozzie. They make him do the tough things around there. That's what his job calls for, being bluntly honest. It's tough, but I knew when he called me that was kind of closure for me. I didn't have to hear it from anybody else."
What's your relationship like now with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti?
"I still feel the same about Steve. That's why when I wrote that piece to Baltimore I really wanted to thank three people [Bisciotti, Newsome, coach John Harbaugh] out loud, but everybody at One Winning Drive. They were family. Steve provided me an opportunity to take care of my family the rest of my life. The whole situation was kind of a blur. People get put in tough places and have to do certain things. You have to understand the fine line that it's business. That doesn't mean they don't feel a certain way about the person. Steve is a great, great guy. I put him in a tough position. I screwed that up. I always take that approach. I have to be accountable. If I had never committed my act, then Steve is never in that position because he had already done what he had to do, he took care of my family."
What caused you to have such an unproductive season in 2013 and how bad were your hip and quadriceps injuries that year?
"I guess now because I'm a free agent, I don't have any confidentiality, I can't get in the doghouse for talking about my injuries, I had a Grade 3, rectus femoris tear (torn quadriceps) and I played the whole season with that. When I went down in Cleveland that was a pain I can't even describe. I get told in the locker room that, 'Let's see, it's a two to three week injury, but it lasted the whole year. I was basically playing with one leg and I've always taken the approach of never blaming anybody else. I was out there. I knew I wasn't myself. I put myself out there. That's what's on the tape. If I had a chance to fend for myself, I would tell you I played through an injury I probably should have sat through. If a guy was suffering from a hamstring and that hamstring kept tearing that's what I had in my leg, all the way from the hip flexor to the quadriceps.
"Basically, it would get better during the week. As soon as I would go out and play, I was basically re-tearing it. It would take me until Thursday to feel like myself knowing I had to get all taped up, put all kind of medicine in my body, it didn't feel good. The reason why I played through it is I didn't want to let my teammates down. They just felt like No. 27 is going to be out there and he's going to make a difference. If you notice, the one game against Chicago that year, I only felt good running one way and that was to the left. Anytime I ran to the left, it was easy for me to point. If I ran to the right, I had to drag my leg. I didn't like running to the right. So, I made that know. It was a very big deal. My strength was running to the left."
You barely played in a regular-season finale in 2013 against the Cincinnati Bengals, which wound up being your final regular-season game for the Ravens. It's been said before that former Ravens running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery made the decision to not play you and go with Bernard Pierce and Bernard Scott. Do you feel like that was because your relationship with him had unraveled?
"Wilbert is a great coach. He's a former player and our relationship was definitely great throughout my career. I have all good things to say about Wilbert. We faced a little adversity, which everybody does. I still look to him as one of the greatest running back coaches because we had those Pro Bowl years and he definitely put some tools in me that I used throughout my career. When you go through some adversity, man, you really just want to find closure.
"I really just, if this ever gets to Wilbert, I want to tell him thank you for all you've done for me and my career because I did have three Pro Bowls with you and we did win a Super Bowl together. That's pretty special. For all those things to go right and then have one incident, it's not the way you want it to go, but it's still a good run."
How do you think you would have done in former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's zone system last year if you had only been suspended for the first two games of the season and played for the team this past season?
"I got in the shape I got in because I just couldn't take being told, 'You were out of shape, overweight, lost a step.' Where did this come from? I just made a Pro Bowl the year before. I had to keep my silence and take the criticism because I couldn't talk about my injury. I was hurt. Last year was probably primed to be one of the best seasons of my NFL career in that offense. Justin Forsett is my guy, we have a great relationship, but I was primed to have one of the best seasons of my career."
When did you realize the ripple effect from the incident as far as the big picture on the NFL and society?
"The big picture of it all, being the person that I am, I really felt horrible, I know there's people that as much as I talk about going to House of Ruth, there's many places that go through that. I only know one place. I'm sitting up there thinking, 'Man, all these people went through this. It's not right. It's really not right.' That was the hardest part for me. You almost want to punish yourself. It's like no matter how hard you were being punished publicly. It doesn't hit you until it hits you internally. I know I'm never going to win the battle of public opinion. What I got out of all of this, until you feel somebody else's pain, I felt people's pain. As close as me and my wife got, we both had to feel that. There's people actually in hiding. If my wife ever felt that way about me, I couldn't imagine.
"Honestly, I almost felt like at one point that it wasn't worth living. I see why people commit suicide. It hurt that bad. I was low, real low. It hurt that bad because you worked your whole life to do all the right things and then you're the world's most hated person. It was tough. It was really tough. I got low to a place where I've never been. Thank God for my faith for my counselor, Dr. Ball, for my family, for my wife. Thank God for all of them because those are the people that I had to look at day to day. My daughter, oh Lord, I grew up without a father. There's no way I could check out on my own family."
What do you plan to say to your daughter, Rayven, one day to explain the domestic violence incident between you and your wife?
"I think about it every day. I just want to tell her that her father made a huge mistake and there are certain things that aren't acceptable. The thing I learned about domestic violence is it just doesn't take physical forms and actually physically hitting a person, it takes place in words. This is the thing I became aware of. We all say things that we want to take back. Once they're out, it's like a can of toothpaste, you can't put the toothpaste back in once it's out. I want to basically make my daughter understand the severity of these things.
"I don't even want to think about somebody else hitting my daughter. I just want to be the male she can always look up to and understand that I made a mistake and that will never happen to her. I will always be there to protect her and make sure that she's able to carry herself in a way where she's not even thinking about that kind of stuff. That's tough. Not trying to make it any better, the fact that I do have a daughter people can understand I get it. I get it fully."
What do you plan to do with your life if you never play football again?
"I want to coach kids. I have a day-to-day job with my daughter. That job is never going to end. It's a full-time job. I have some plans. I want to finish school. I definitely want to get into some smart things. I don't need to do much. You got to be smart. It's all about timing. I do have a plan. I do want to coach kids and get into coaching. I don't want to coach college or professional. I don't want to feel like I'm in a business. I want to be like my high school coach [New Rochelle coach Lou DiRienzo]. I came to my high school as a boy and I left as a man.
"That stuck with me the rest of my life. When you graduate high school and some of my best friends are in the Air Force, some of them have graduated from college, some of them are doctors, when we go back home, we go see coach D because that's just what he put in us. It's for love. It's tough. That's where home is. That's the first step. I'm going back home to rebuild my commuity. I have to face what's torn down. I'm not going to live in my hometown, but close enough."
Would you play for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
"It's safe to say I would play for anybody right now. I know Baltimore wouldn't like it, but I would play for anybody right now. You think about the applause and I played in front of 70,000 people. I just want to play for pride now. I want to win the respect of a locker room. I want to show these guys that no matter what they got somebody in their corner that's going to be there for him."
Did you stay in touch with your former teammates?
"I stay in touch with the guys. I did send the the majority of the guys a text after the season all of them a thank you. People think I was bitter. I wasn't home bitter. I was rooting for the guys. What do I have to sit home and be bitter about? I'm not that guy. That would be me holding a grudge. When I looked at Justin Forsett this year, it was kind of a surreal thing for me. I was watching myself through him. It was different because he was the same stature. We probably would have made the same moves. The only thing different between me and Justin that I'll put out there is I'm a little bit faster. We were the same guy. I was happy for him. I hope it continues to roll for him. I'm a little taller, too. I got him by an inch and 10 pounds!"
Do you have any more legal requirements to fulfill within the pretrial intervention program?
"I'm actually done in my case. Really, I just have to call the state of New Jersey once a month. After May 19, I'm done. It will be a full year. It will be like a refreshing start. That's the only little burden that I have. I have until May 19. I don't have anything to do but call and confirm some things with them that I'm not getting into any trouble. It's a real basic phone call and they give me another date for the next month.
"This year has gone by really fast. It's been a year since the incident. Once May comes, I'll be moving into my new house and I'll sort of feel like a free man by then. You're back to a fresh slate. One thing I learned is to be patient and stay ready. One thing I'm going to do is fitness is a part of my life. Working out saved me. I couldn't sit home and do nothing. Why don't I be a gym rat? You never know."