In his first public comments since his February arrest following a physical altercation with his now wife, Ravens running back Ray Rice appeared emotional and uncomfortable as he apologized to fans, family members and the Ravens' organization.
With his wife, Janay Rice, seated next to him, and his mother and father-in-law in the front row during a Friday news conference at the Under Armour Performance Center, Rice acknowledged that he has failed. However, the veteran NFL running back said that he's working every day to be a better father, husband and role model.
"There were a lot of tears shed, but me and Janay can truly say that we're in a better place," Rice said. "Hopefully, one day I'll gain back everyone's trust to let you all know that we're still the same people, and I'm still the same person. I really treat my job as a very special job, and I failed miserably. But I wouldn't call myself a failure, because I'm working my way back up."
Rice, who was arrested on Feb. 15 and ultimately indicted on a felony aggravated assault charge, learned earlier this week that he was accepted in a pretrial intervention program that would allow him to avoid any jail time and ultimately could lead to the charge being eliminated from his record.
However, he's still facing a potential multi-game suspension from the NFL and his formerly good-guy image, crafted by regular community appearances and his support of several worthy causes including anti-bullying, may be irreparably damaged.
Wearing a tan suit and a blue tie, Rice spoke for about five minutes before his wife, whom he married days after his indictment, made a brief statement. Rice, 27, didn't take questions per advice of his legal team and the NFL Players' Association, according to Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations.
Rice spoke to a nearly full auditorium, which contained about 10 television cameras, all the local media outlets and a couple of national ones, including ESPN. Team president Dick Cass was there, but owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh were not present because of prior commitments. Wide receiver Torrey Smith, one of Rice's closest friends on the team, was the only teammate in attendance.
"For everybody here, I want you to know that I'm still the Ray Rice that you know or used to know or [have] grown to love," Rice said. "I'm still the same guy. As me and Janay wish we could take back 30 seconds of our life, we definitely sit here today and tell you that we are better parents, we are better lovers, and we are also better friends throughout the situation."
The news conference had its share of awkward moments. Several of Rice's family members along with his representatives filed in quietly while one of the local news stations was going live with a recap of his legal issues. Rayven, the couple's 2-year old daughter, started crying, not long after Rice and his wife sat down.
Rice opted to speak from "off the top" of his head, though his voice cracked several times and he scrolled down on his cell phone multiple times for reminders of talking points. While he thanked his wife for "loving me where I was weak and building me up where I was strong," he didn't offer a public apology to her.
At one point, he said, "Failure is not getting knocked down; it's not getting up." Video surfaced following the incident at Revel Casino in Atlantic City that showed Rice dragging his then fiancee out of the elevator. Atlantic City police issued a complaint that Rice knocked Janay unconscious before referring the case over to a county prosector for review. Charges against Janay were dropped, while Rice's charge was upgraded.
"I do deeply regret the role that I played in the incident that night, but I can say that I am happy that we continue to work through it together, and we are continuing to strengthen our relationship and our marriage. ...," Janay said. "... I love Ray, and I know that he will continue to prove himself to not only you all, but [to] the community. I know he will gain your respect back in due time."
Rice took a moment to address his father-in-law, Joe Palmer who was seated in the front row, calling him "my father I never had." Rice's father was shot and killed when Rice was 5 years old.
"I know it wasn't easy when you saw everything that happened, but I just remember your words: 'You'll get through it,'" Rice told Joe Palmer. "Those words will stick with me deeper than anything that I can imagine, because one thing you gave me was trust."
Rice and his wife hugged Joe Palmer before departing the auditorium following the end of the news conference.
"Obviously, his head was down," Torrey Smith said. "It was probably the lowest feeling for him in his life so far. He's been focused and growing and strengthening his relationship with his wife. With that, he's showing everyone else that he's changing and it was a mistake and obviously he knows that, everyone knows that. We see it just like everyone else. Everyone has their opinion on things. At the end of the day, we look at him as a brother. We support our family."
Cass also praised Rice for his handling of the situation. The Ravens have been consistent saying they will stand by Rice as he deals with the legal and personal issues.
"I thought Ray did well," Cass said. "He spoke from his heart. I know he wanted to apologize and I thought he did that. I thought he and Janay presented themselves as remorseful as they really are. It's been an anguishing situation for him, a very difficult situation and I think they've emerged as a stronger couple and I was happy to see them here today."
While the completion of the diversionary program would put his legal problems behind him, Rice still has his share of challenges going forward. On the field, the three-time Pro Bowl selection is coming off his most disappointing NFL season as he was limited to 660 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 2013. His conditioning was also criticized and Rice is now preparing for a season in which he likely will be suspended for the early stages.
Off the field, Rice acknowledged that "many of my supporters, sponsors … have acted as so to not want to be in partnership with me."
The company Gillette, which has worked with Rice in the past, has no current relationship with him though it's unclear when that ended. Following Rice's arrest, the president of Xenith Football Helmets declined to comment on whether the company still was working with Rice. A spokesperson for M&T Bank, which has also used Rice in its commercials, didn't immediately respond to a request to comment Friday on the running back's status but the bank has said in the past it was evaluating its relationship with the Raven.
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However, Evan Berney, the vice president, CEO and owner of Carbiz, a local used car dealership, said Friday that Rice will remain a spokesman for his company.
"I'm happy he was able to speak to the public, everybody was waiting for that as well as us," Berney said. "We're happy with the outcome. I know Ray, I know he has a high moral character. I know sticking by him was, in my mind, the right choice."
Jonathan Bernstein, president of California-based Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. and the author of two books on crisis management, said Rice's nearly three months of silence following his arrest is a "classic demonstration of strategy dictated by legal advisors who don't understand the court of public opinion. In the court of public opinion, saying nothing equates to "I'm guilty."
However, Bernstein thinks that the incident will "quickly fade from public memory" if Rice avoids similar off-the-field issues in the future.
Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.