In their first interview since releasing running back Ray Rice, the Ravens' top decision makers acknowledged that they failed in their handling of the situation and vowed to be more diligent in investigating legal matters involving their players going forward.
Here are the highlights from Wednesday's interview with owner Steve Bisciotti, president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome.
How tough has this situation been with how close you were to Ray Rice?
Newsome: "I have a relationship with all the players but I know at some juncture there's going to be some separation. It came sooner than I thought. But the football aspect of it was one thing that separated it, but my relationship with Ray will probably carry on for a lot of years."
How difficult was it to tell Rice that you were terminating his contract?
Newsome: "Five days ago, did I think that I would be calling Ray while he was on suspension to tell him I was going to terminate him? No. None of the calls, whether it's a phone call or a guy sitting or standing across from me at a table is very easy. And I think that was probably the toughest to this point that I've been through."
How did the meeting unfold when decided to cut him?
Cass: "It was a very quick meeting. We had an opportunity before the meeting to talk a little bit about it with each other. There had been some separate conversations before the meeting. But the meeting itself lasted, I would guess, no more than 20 to 30 minutes. It was a good discussion. Everyone voiced their opinion and everyone was unanimous."
Why weren't the words in the police report where it said, "he struck her unconscious" enough to release him in your eyes?
Cass: "There was no discussion. When it's a player misconduct, there's a protocol that the league has followed for over 20 years now. And the protocol basically is the team involved generally collects information about the incident. But if it's a criminal misconduct issue, there's no discipline generally imposed until the criminal proceeding is finished. That's the protocol that we followed in this case as well. We collected information as best as we could but we really were waiting until the criminal proceeding was over to decide what to do. There would have been no precedent that I'm aware of where you'd take an established player – a player who had been with you for six years, had been a model citizen, a terrific player, had built up enormous good will in this building and in this community – to terminate a player when he had been charged with simple assault.
What was your reaction to the video?
Bisciotti: "It was tough to watch the video that came out Monday. It was embarrassing for all of us to watch the first video that came out months ago. That was embarrassing, that was sad. Monday's video was disgusting and shocking to us.
Detail your efforts to get the video?
Cass: "In the very beginning in February, we tried to obtain a copy of the video from the police department. We then tried to obtain a copy from the casino, they refused. We then went to the prosecutor, 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 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."
So nobody in this building has seen the video?
Bisciotti: "Until Monday."
Why not send somebody to Atlantic City to get it?
Cass: "Our security guys offered to the police to go to Atlantic City and watch it. They would not accept that."
Did Rice's explanation to team officials match up with what you eventually saw on the video?
Newsome: "We had a meeting but also Ray and Janay and Roger had a separate meeting and a story was told in that meeting. So what was said during the meeting between the three could have been a lot different than what was said when the eight of us were in a room together."
But did it particularly match what Rice told you?
Newsome: "You know. Ray had given a story to John and I. And what we saw on the video was what Ray said. Ray didn't lie to me. He didn't lie to me."
Cass: "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. 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."
Is there any scenario where Rice could be back with the team?
Bisciotti: "I don't think so. I think if he gets permission to come back to the league, I think it's safe to assume that he's done here. Personally, I hope if he does get let back in the league, another team gives him a chance."
What do you think is Rice's football future?
Newsome: "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."
Did you anyone in the organization talk to Janay without Rice present?
Cass: "[Team chaplain] Johnny Shelton worked closely with Ray and Janay, along with Johnny's wife. Harry Swayne, our director of player development, was also working with Ray. Ray and Janay also went into couple's counseling with some people here in the Baltimore area. My understanding of Ray and also from Johnny was that Ray and Janay were very consistent in attending and following through with all those meetings and were getting a lot out of it."
Have you had to change policies based on how this situation was handled and was anybody disciplined for their role?
Bisciotti: "No, the buck stops with me. 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. It didn't sound as bad as we saw Monday morning, but based on what we heard, and then going all the way back to that night where they brought both of them in and gave them equal misdemeanor charges. I can't look at that tape and see how they got equal misdemeanor charges. When the prosecutor dropped her charge and elevated his to a felony, I was told that's pretty standard in these cases. I was also told what's pretty standard is probation on a first offense and he got probation. Down the line, nothing happened that made us think that he wasn't getting appropriate counsel and appropriate punishments that were consistent with what we thought was on that video. That was all pretty consistent. None of that – not the equal misdemeanors, not the probation of the charge, or what we were led to believe – matches what we saw Monday."
Do you regret aggressively defending Rice without seeing the video?
Bisciotti: "I don't regret that. Like I said, he had earned the benefit of the doubt with us. 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. 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. Maybe if that was what we demanded from him – either for us to keep him on the team or Roger to give him a penalty – that we had to see the tape, then maybe they could have produced it, whether it was through his lawyer or through permission of he and his lawyer to go to police and ask it to be released to his employer, meaning the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens. If that was a condition, then we may have gotten it. 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 and then turn around and see this video and go, 'absolutely unacceptable.' That's my biggest regret.
Did this incident serve as a wake up call for the organization?
Cass: "I think this whole incident served as a wake up call in many respects. 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 on too much of others to do that and we need to do more ourselves. I think that was a critical mistake in what we did here. I blame myself. We did not go get the facts ourselves and critically evaluate what we had heard. We failed in that regard. It was a big failure. In that sense, we will conduct ourselves very differently the next time we have a player accused of a violent act, that's a criminal act. We will do more. Obviously, domestic violence is something that's a national problem. We, as a representative of this community and as an organization that enjoys respect in the community, we think that we can have an influence on domestic violence in this community and make a positive impact. That's what we intend to do."
Why did you not address the situation Monday and instead leave head coach John Harbaugh to answer all the questions?
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Bisciotti: "It seems to me that people thought we were shunning our responsibilities. 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. If Ozzie has taught me one thing in 14 years together, it's that any big decision, he likes to sleep on. I want an answer right away. Ozzie never gives it to me. He always says, 'let me think on it, I'll talk to you tomorrow about it.' We've come to learn to wait on Ozzie and we usually get good counsel when it comes to football decisions. I channeled him when we decided that we weren't ready to talk to the press that day."
Your organization has taken a hit from a public relations standpoint with how this was handled. Do you have any regrets about that?
Bisciotti: "In hindsight, I would have never let Janay stand up there. If they did it, I would have said, 'You're not sitting with Ray.' 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."
Can you describe the meeting today you had with the organization?
Bisciotti: "It was not the players. John handled the players. It was John, all the coaches and all the employees at every level. We put out a letter to our fans last night and we told the employees that we'd be meeting them this morning. I didn't talk for two minutes before I opened it up for questions. My meeting with employees went a lot like this interview is going. Everybody asked the same questions. So, there's not a lot to glean from that meeting that you're not addressing there."
What do you think the responsibility of an owner is to investigate a situation like this?
Bisciotti: "It's a lot different now, my perception about my responsibilities, my feelings about my responsibility. 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, as Dick said, 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. I can assure you that we will not wait for other people to give us their findings in anything, especially domestic assaults. I've come to see that they treat domestic assaults – and I say, they – I'm saying all of our country, our court system and everything. It doesn't seem to me that has elevated to something higher than bar fights. It seems to me that it's the same felonies reduced to misdemeanors and given probation. And as long as it's a first offense, everything is equal. That can't be. That can't be for the Ravens, that can't be for the NFL and it can't be for the general public. Battered women deserve more than that."