The Ravens' top decision makers acknowledged Wednesday that the organization failed in its handling of the Ray Rice investigation and now needs to rebuild trust with its fans.
In their first interview since Monday's decision to terminate Rice's contract on the same day a video surfaced of him striking his then-fiancee, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome told The Baltimore Sun that the team will be more diligent in investigating legal matters involving their players going forward.
"I realize that instead of being the greatest proponent of my player in situations like this, when the police and the prosecutors and the league are the disciplinarians, we have to do a better job of investigating matters on our own and not waiting for other people who may not do it as well as we think we could do it," Bisciotti said. "I can assure you that we will not wait for other people to give us their findings in anything, especially domestic assaults."
Bisciotti added, "We all failed."
"The buck stops with me," he said. "I can't second-guess anybody that helps me run this business. I think that's unfair. We kind of heard what we wanted to hear and imagined what we wanted to imagine because we loved Ray."
Bisciotti's comments came about an hour before a report surfaced that the National Football League had received the video of Rice punching Janay Rice, who is now his wife, in an elevator of an Atlantic City, N.J., casino before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed down his widely criticized two-game suspension of Rice in July. Rice, 27, has since been suspended indefinitely, putting his NFL career in jeopardy.
The Associated Press reported that a law enforcement source had sent a copy of the tape to the NFL three months ago. League spokesman Greg Aiello said he had no knowledge of that.
Ravens officials reiterated Wednesday that no one in their facility had seen the tape and that they had been turned away in efforts to obtain a copy of it. Cass said the team asked whether it could send a security official to the Atlantic City Police Department to review the tape, but that request was denied.
"In the very beginning in February, we tried to obtain a copy of the video from the Police Department," Cass said. "We then tried to obtain a copy from [Revel] casino, [and] they refused. We then went to the prosecutor, [and] they refused. We also went to the directors of security with the Jets and Giants and asked if they could help, and they said they couldn't. We also went to the NFL representatives for the Giants and Jets and asked them if they could help us, and they were unable to help us. We also went to our NFL security representative and asked if he could help us get a copy. That was all unsuccessful. At that point, Ray's lawyer had not seen the video."
Bisciotti said that where the organization erred was not continuing the investigation once Rice, who was facing a felony aggravated assault charge, was accepted into a diversionary program that allowed him to avoid jail time and potentially lead to the charge being removed from his record.
"I regret very much — and we all do — giving up on the video. It was there, we knew it was there, we want to see it. And if I can say so, I'm sure the league wishes that they pushed harder. We said that we pushed as hard as we could and never got it, but we should have pushed harder," Bisciotti said. "Whatever that level is, we probably shouldn't have given up. Roger should probably not have given him a suspension before he saw that tape. … That's where we dropped the ball. That's where I'm so angry, because it allowed us to accept what the league gave him."
Said Cass: "I think it serves as a wake-up call in how we handle player conduct issues in the future, particularly any issue with a player involving violence, is something that we have to do a much better job of conducting a vigorous, independent investigation of what the facts are. We have relied too much on theirs to do that, and we need to do more ourselves. I think that was a critical mistake in what we did here."
Bisciotti said he first viewed the video Monday morning, when it was released by TMZ Sports, and immediately drove to the team facility to meet with Cass, Newsome, coach John Harbaugh and Kevin Byrne, the team's senior vice president of public relations. The meeting lasted 20 to 30 minutes and the decision was unanimous to release Rice, the three-time Pro Bowl running back who, before the incident, had been one of the team's most popular and productive players.
Bisciotti described the video as "disgusting and shocking."
"There's a big difference between reading a report that says he knocked her unconscious or being told that someone had slapped someone and that she had hit her head," Cass said. "That is one version of the facts. That's what we understood to be the case. When you see the video, it just looks very different than what we understood the facts to be."
Newsome said he and Harbaugh spoke to Rice shortly after his arrest, and his version of what happened matched what was on the tape. But seeing the incident took things to an entirely different level.
"Ray didn't lie to me," Newsome said.
Newsome described the phone call to Rice to tell him he was being released as the toughest that he's had to make in his career as an executive. Asked whether he believes Rice will play in the NFL again, Newsome said, "I think today and for the near future, Ray is going to be working on Ray. I don't think playing football right now is important to him, based on our conversation. He's working on himself, Janay and their daughter, and trying to make the best of that."
Bisciotti expressed hope that Rice will eventually play in the NFL again, but he said that it won't be with the Ravens.
"I think it's safe to assume that he's done here," Bisciotti said.
Along with the organization not pushing harder to get a copy of the elevator tape, Bisciotti said his other regret was allowing Rice to hold a news conference at the team facility in late May. With his wife seated next to him, Rice scrolled down his cellphone for talking points, made an ill-timed reference to being knocked down and didn't publicly apologize to Janay. His wife, however, apologized for her role in the incident, which the team relayed on its official Twitter account.
"In hindsight, I would have never let Janay [sit] up there," Bisciotti said. "What she then said was that she takes some responsibility, which everything we know, a lot of battered women take responsibility for their roles in this thing. I regret that we ever let him do that in our facility. In hindsight, we would have said that this is a bad idea. His lawyer said that it had to be done. I think even the league had encouraged Ray to make some public statement. That was a bad day, a bad decision by all."
On Tuesday night, Bisciotti sent out an email to Ravens' stakeholders that acknowledged the organization's failure to "do all we should have done" in handling the Rice situation. Wednesday morning, he held a meeting with the coaching staff and all of the team's employees, during which he took questions about how he and the organization dealt with Rice.
Bisciotti defended his decision not to speak to the news media Monday night, as Harbaugh took questions about Rice's release. Instead of saying something he would regret, Bisciotti said, he took a lesson from Newsome to take time before responding.
"It seems to me that people thought we were shunning our responsibilities," Bisciotti said. "That seems to be pretty consistent. So for me to say, 'I regret that people thought we threw John out there and we should have been the ones,' I will tell you that this was so emotionally tough on us on Monday that there is no way I could have prepared to meet the press that day. There's just no way. I think whatever we gained by going out there and talking, we would have lost by saying the wrong things."
He said he understands that some fans might not forgive the team, which hosts the rival Pittsburgh Steelers tonight in a nationally televised game.
"They say time heals all wounds — that's the only thing that we have on our side," he said. "We've taken a hit in people's perception of our competence to run this company that they all love so much, and I don't know if we've lost the confidence of 40 percent of them. We're going to win back some in a year, we're going to win back others in three years, we're going to win back others in five years. And some we may never win back. That's unfortunately the cost of doing business and the price we have to pay for not doing our job to the best of our ability."