In news conference, Steve Bisciotti speaks out about ESPN report on Ray Rice
By JEFF ZREBIEC
The Baltimore Sun|
Sep 22, 2014 | 10:39 PM
A defiant Steve Bisciotti shot back at the Ray Rice camp and an ESPN report that alleged the organization engaged in a "pattern of misinformation and misdirection" following the running back's assault of his then-fiancee in February.
Offering an emphatic response to what he perceived as an attack on his organization's integrity, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti on Monday rebutted a recent report saying that the organization engaged in a "pattern of misinformation and misdirection" following Ray Rice's arrest in February.
In an unusual, nearly 50-minute news conference that brought the national media to the team's Owings Mills training facility, Bisciotti again acknowledged the organization's faults in how it handled the fallout of the former running back's assault on his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator.
Bisciotti, who admittedly hates such settings, was a mixture of stern, conversational, glib and apologetic. He made clear that he was only speaking to defend the organization following Friday's release of the ESPN report. But his message may as well have been to his fan base, sponsors and stakeholders, who he hopes stick with the team during what he called the "worst crisis" of his decade tenure as the Ravens' majority owner.
However, he vehemently disputed several aspects of the report, including the assertion that he, team president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome were fully aware of the severity of Rice's assault on Palmer and worked behind-the-scenes to gain leniency for Rice from both the judicial system and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"When your integrity is questioned, it's pretty humbling. Last week it was our competence being questioned. Now it's our integrity," Bisciotti said. "Did we lie? Did we twist things? [Newsome and Cass] are handling it exactly the way I would expect them to handle it. They're embarrassed about our shortcomings but I think they're angry about being questioned on their character."
About 15 minutes before Bisciotti spoke, the team circulated a seven-page letter to its fans in which it disputed several aspects of the report. Among the items of dispute: that Rice told the truth to team officials about what happened in the elevator; that Ravens coach John Harbaugh wanted Rice released shortly after his arrest and was overruled by higher-ranking team officials; and that team officials lobbied Goodell for a lighter punishment of Rice.
In the letter, team director of security Darren Sanders said Rice told him that he had slapped Palmer and denied punching her. Sanders also said that he didn't gain a clear picture of the incident when an Atlantic City Police official viewed the tape and described what he saw over the phone.
"The officer could not tell from the video whether Ray slapped or punched her, but Ray told me very clearly that he did not punch her," Sanders said. "It was not clear from the officer's account whether it was being intoxicated, being hit, or hitting her head against the railing that caused Janay's apparent unconsciousness."
Harbaugh said that he concluded only after the gossip website, TMZ, published the video of the elevator assault on Sept. 8 that the Ravens needed to release Rice, while Bisciotti, Cass and Newsome all denied they contacted Goodell to ask for a lighter suspension.
Goodell handed down a widely-criticized two-game suspension in late July. However, when the second elevator video came out, the Ravens released Rice and Goodell adjusted the running back's ban to an "indefinite suspension." Rice and the NFL Players Association are currently appealing that suspension.
Bisciotti took aim Monday at the people advising Rice.
"I think what's obvious is that the majority of sources [in the report] are the people that work for Ray," Bisciotti said. "Almost everything in there is anonymous but it's clear from the subject matter that it's Ray's attorney, it's Ray's agent and it's Ray's friends. They are building a case for reinstatement and the best way to build a case for reinstatement is to make everybody else look like they are lying. So, their accusations didn't jibe with what we knew as fact."
Rice's attorney, Michael Diamondstein, declined comment when reached by The Sun. Rice did not return a text message seeking comment and his publicist said his side has no current plans to respond. ESPN released a statement saying "We stand behind our report."
More scrutiny likely
Some crisis managers said Bisciotti did what he had to in defending his organization, but cautioned that the owner faces more scrutiny.
Howard Opinsky, executive vice president of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a crisis communication firm, said the Ravens' point-by-point response to the ESPN report has the potential to be "quite powerful."
"But if the points are not that strong, it can also be a dangerous exercise to go through," he said. "The more you communicate in this situation, more you're going to be scrutinized about what you're saying. If any of them turn out to be false, that will further undercut the team's credibility. The wisdom of the tactic rests squarely on the authenticity of the information."
Lanny Davis, a crisis manager and attorney in Washington who once served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton, praised the Ravens owner for putting his name and those of top team officials behind facts as they understood them — not conjecture offered by anonymous sources.
"Congratulations to Mr. Bisciotti for following crisis management rule No. 1" by "smoking out" ESPN's anonymous sources, Davis said. "That's a very good crisis management technique. Biscotti did exactly right today. The only two people on the record standing behind their memories are Biscotti and Cass."
The Ravens' top decision-makers accelerated plans to respond to the report when the team returned to Baltimore Sunday following a 23-21 road victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Bisciotti even said that he would ultimately be willing to invite Rice back into the organization to help in the player development department. The report contained text messages sent by Bisciotti to Rice after the player's release, where he makes that offer. Rice, according to the article, "felt incredibly insulted," believing the offer amounted to hush money.
The owner scoffed at that and the Ravens circulated the back-and-forth messages between the owner and Rice, who tells his former boss: "… Me and my family greatly appreciate you and thank you."
'Zero desire' to see tape
Bisciotti made one surprising admission, given that he says one of his biggest regrets in the situation was that the organization didn't push harder to obtain a copy of the tape.
"I lacked a whole lot of interest and had zero desire to see that tape," Bisciotti said.
He was also asked about whether there were any females involved in the organization's decision-making involving Rice and Bisciotti said since the team doesn't have a female president, coach or general manager, it was not in the Ravens' "structure."
"It's not something that you'd pull in a representative group of females that work here and say, 'Hey, we're making these big decisions,' because unfortunately we were not making any decisions," Bisciotti said. "We were letting it play out. There wasn't a whole lot to gather around and talk about."
The Ravens will face further questions going forward as former FBI director Robert Mueller, who has been appointed by the NFL to investigate the league's handling of the Rice situation, is expected to meet with Ravens officials.
Bisciotti vowed to make changes going forward in how the organization responds to similar incidents. Those changes, however, won't include any scapegoats.
"Nobody is losing a job here," Bisciotti said. "I'm very confident about that."