Ray Rice faces fan fallout

John Buch threw away his sons' Ray Rice jerseys. He ripped posters of the Ravens running back from the walls of their rooms. And this season, there won't be any cheers for Rice from the family's Towson home.

Since a video surfaced of Rice dragging the unconscious body of his now-wife from a casino elevator, the incident has sharply divided Ravens fans. Rice married his longtime girlfriend, Janay Palmer, the day after he was indicted on assault charges. He later agreed to a pretrial diversion program to avoid jail time.


"Quite frankly, I'm embarrassed to be a Ravens fan," Buch said. "I'd almost consider rooting for the Steelers."

The NFL's handling of the situation has also been widely derided. It suspended Rice for two games, which is less than some punishments meted out for marijuana possession. (Rice will lose $529,000 in wages; he is in the middle of a five-year, $40 million contract.) NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to say a word on the matter publicly. And Rice's awkward news conference in May, in which he took no questions, was deemed a disaster.


But Rice will have another shot at the public today, when he is expected to take questions from reporters — for the first time since the incident — at Ravens training camp.

Some Ravens fans say they're disgusted by it all. But others believe that Rice, who was once seen as one of the team's most talented and wholesome players, deserves a second chance.

When Rice ran onto the M&T Bank Stadium field Monday for the first public practice of the season, some fans jumped to their feet and gave a standing ovation.

But for many, Rice's gleam is gone.


Jerseys bearing his name were unceremoniously crammed onto a clearance rack at City Sports in Harbor East, where, an employee said, they have hung since the allegations surfaced.

Buch said his sons, 10 and 8, have been confused and disappointed by the allegations. Rice spoke at their elementary school as part of his anti-bullying campaign.

"Rule No. 1 is that you never, ever, ever hit a woman," said Buch, 41, who works in sales. "It's inexcusable. It's the unforgivable foul. We live in a culture where there is too much violence against women."

Buch said he is angry that the Ravens have not done more to censure Rice.

"If the same thing had happened to me, I wouldn't have a job," he said.

Sharon Love, who became an advocate against relationship violence after her daughter, Yeardley, was killed in 2010 by an ex-boyfriend and fellow college lacrosse player at the University of Virginia, said she is disturbed by the fact that Rice's assault of Palmer is repeatedly characterized as "a mistake."

"What shocked me the most was when John Harbaugh said — I can't remember the exact quote — he's a good guy, he made a mistake," Love said.

Love was referring to what the Ravens coach said after the NFL suspended Rice for two games: "I stand behind Ray — he's a heck of a guy. He's done everything right since. He makes a mistake; he's going to have to pay a consequence." On Wednesday, Harbaugh reiterated his support, saying he was proud of how Rice has handled the aftermath of the incident, even though the player was "flat out" wrong to hit his then fiancee.

"There is a team mentality," Love said, "and it's to give them a pass."

Love said she was heartened by the uproar that ensued after the incident became known. The Cockeysville resident, a Ravens fan, said she was disappointed that Rice received a veritable "slap on the wrist" when compared to how other players have been punished, such as quarterback Michael Vick, then of the Atlanta Falcons, who was suspended indefinitely for operating a dog-fighting ring.

"That's a tell-tale sign of how people view relationship violence," she said.

Randallstown teacher Tracy Williams said she is concerned about the message that the incident — and the league's reaction — sends to girls such as her 9-year-old.

"What does this say to my daughter? It's OK for a man to hit you as long as he asks you to marry him?" Williams, 44, said as she reflected on the case while sitting at the Inner Harbor.

"If I was the wife, I wouldn't marry him," said her daughter, Heaven Williams, who starts fourth grade next month.

Others say they believe Rice deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Diane Johnston, 61, of Forest Hill said she has followed Rice's career and personal life through social media.

"I don't consider him a wife beater," said Johnston, a retired social worker. "He just made a big mistake."

Johnston believes that Rice, who is attending counseling as part of the pretrial diversion program, is trying to make things right. She said fans should take their cues from Rice's wife.

"She has faith in the relationship and she has faith in him," Johnston said.

But fans such as John Lane of Towson say they are finished with Rice.

His Rice jersey, purchased a few years ago, was his first pricey fan gear. Still, he didn't hesitate to toss it in the trash when the allegations surfaced.

"I can't live with this sort of cognitive dissonance, where you can separate the individual, the so-called private actions, from the bigger picture," said Lane, a father of two.

Other fans, including Cindy Pierce, say they will still don their No. 27 jerseys.

Known as "Purple Dame," she is the first female Ravens fan inducted into the Professional Football Ultimate Fan Association.

Pierce likens her continued support of Rice to what she feels for a relative who has had trouble with the law. "He's still my family," said Pierce, 48, of Severn, a member of the Lavender Ladies fan club sponsored by the Ravens.

But even she was taken aback when her 8-year-old granddaughter seemed to shrug off the Rice incident, saying, "But he hits people on the field."

"I said, 'Yeah, but that's different,'" she said.

The furor over Rice demonstrates how the NFL "needs to have a clear anti-domestic violence policy" that sets out the penalty for players who violate it, said Margaret E. Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and co-director of its Center on Applied Feminism.

Johnson said she didn't believe Rice got off more easily than other noncelebrity defendants do on domestic violence charges. Deals are fairly common, she said, and often, as in Rice's case, the victim doesn't want charges filed.

"We don't want to override her wishes," Johnson said. "He did take responsibility. It's a horrible, horrible thing to do, but this couple wants to work on this relationship. If so, they can be role models."

The Ravens have struggled to handle the fallout over the altercation, one of several offseason incidents in which players have gotten in trouble with the law. Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne wrote a sympathetic blog post last week titled, "I like Ray Rice," about seeing Rice morosely working out in the dark in the team's practice facilities because he didn't know if others wanted to see him there.

"We know what it is to be a parent," wrote Byrne. "We know what it is to support a child after a mistake."

On Wednesday, Byrne acknowledged that there are repercussions — for Rice, and for the team that has stood behind the player.


"I'm sure there will be people who don't want to have anything to do with Ray Rice or the Ravens because of this," Byrne said.


At Wild Bill's Apparel in Nottingham, sales associate Antonio Ficca said it's a bit early to tell how the incident will affect the sales of Rice apparel.

Meanwhile, Edgar Devarie of Baltimore was sporting one of his two Ray Rice jerseys as he browsed the store with his family. The 16-year-old says Rice is "awesome." As for whether the incident has changed his support for his favorite player?

"Oh, absolutely not," he said. "Ray all day."

Baltimore Sun reporters Aaron Wilson and Aaron Dodson contributed to this article.