Former Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason spoke to Ray Rice shortly after the running back's arrest in February and found his old teammate to be reflective and remorseful. Mason came away believing Rice would rebound and learn from the incident, in which he was charged with felony aggravated assault on his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer.
But that doesn't mean Mason agreed with the two-game suspension NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed down Thursday to Rice for violating the league's personal-conduct policy. Like many others, Mason felt Goodell needed to take a tougher stance on domestic violence.
"It seems like the NFL kind of takes the old-school mentality, 'We're not going to get involved in family matters.' But I think what you do off the field should be more than what you do on the field," said Mason, the Ravens' all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. "You should get fined or penalized more for the things that you do off the field, because that's just not affecting your football team. That's affecting your way of living, that's affecting your family, others that look up to you.
"I think the NFL needs to take a harsher stance when you're dealing with domestic violence. People, especially on the outside, are looking at this and saying: 'Hey, you just gave [Rice] a slap on the wrist. It's almost like you are condoning what he did.' "
Mason said it's fair to question why players get four- and six-game suspensions for using marijuana or performance-enhancing drugs while others involved in domestic incidents, such as Rice, get only one- or two-game bans.
He also pointed to the problems several NFL players, including former Carolina Panthers Rae Carruth and Fred Lane, had with domestic violence as reasons for the league to pay more attention to the issue. Carruth was found guilty in 2001 of conspiracy to commit murder of the woman who was carrying his child. Lane was fatally shot by his wife in 2000.
"We've seen what happened when it comes to domestic violence," Mason said. "You know how this thing could ultimately turn out, and I think if you don't take a stance toward it, some people will almost say that you're kind of condoning that type of behavior."
That being said, Mason believes in Rice. The two were teammates in Baltimore from 2008 to 2010 and have remained friends.
"Sometimes, good people make bad decisions. It happens to the best of us, it's happened to me, it's happened to people I know. You're not immune to making a bad decision. Sometimes, that bad decision costs you everything," Mason said. "I know Ray understands now that this could have cost him his whole football career. It could have cost him an opportunity to just be a regular citizen.
"I'm pretty sure that this is a situation where he will learn from it. I would be flabbergasted if I saw Ray's name come across the ticker or in the newspaper with this headline again. It would just floor me if that will happen, but I don't think it will. Sometimes, good people make bad decisions, and sometimes, those decisions cost you everything. I know he's learned from it."