There was no other choice for the Ravens but to sever ties with running back Ray Rice on Monday afternoon.
The release of the second elevator video by TMZ depicted the worst-case scenario of what Rice had done to then-fiancée Janay Palmer and removed any lingering benefit of the doubt one could reasonably have in defending or understanding the 27-year-old’s actions on that February night in an Atlantic City casino. And it brought the Ravens’ embarrassing missteps to the forefront as the organization was forced to terminate the contract of the man they’d spent the better part of seven months defending and building up amidst intense criticism from the rest of the world.
Whether they were simply misled by Rice, the New Jersey legal system, and the NFL or callously turned a blind eye to what really happened is open for debate as this saga isn’t over — even if the three-time Pro Bowl running back’s career in Baltimore is. The truth is the Ravens will now face the challenge of rebuilding their own image and trust with the general public as their reputation for being one of the finest organizations in the NFL took a massive blow in their handling of the Rice incident.
From the emphatic insistence that his job status was not in jeopardy and strong praise for Rice’s character to the embarrassing initial press conference and the examples of profound support published on the team’s official website, owner Steve Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome, and head coach John Harbaugh must all take responsibility for what was an error in judgment and a lack of sensitivity to what was a startling case of domestic violence. It was unfair for the organization to leave Harbaugh alone to field questions Monday evening as the masses — including Ravens fans and the local community — deserved to hear from the team owner and high-ranking officials following the decision to terminate the employment of one of the Ravens’ biggest stars since 2008.
Harbaugh told the media that Monday was the first time anyone in the organization had viewed the second video published for the world to see that morning. When pressed if he felt misled by his former running back and asked what about the video had changed the team’s reaction so drastically, Harbaugh didn’t “want to get into all that,” which isn’t a good enough answer from an organization that was labeled tone-deaf by many for their unwavering support of Rice throughout the entire ordeal.
It’s human nature to want to think the best of someone you admire no matter what the circumstance, and the Ravens certainly cared — and still care — about Rice as a person. But the organization allowed the goodwill Rice had built over his first six years in Baltimore to cloud its preparedness for — and sensitivity to — the worst-case scenario that proved to be the truth with the released video of Rice viciously striking his future wife and knocking her unconscious in that casino elevator.
Throughout the process, the Ravens gravitated toward what they wanted to believe — and perhaps how Rice and the New Jersey legal system had portrayed the incident — with little regard for the possibility that this incident of domestic violence was as bad as some had reported and many had feared. Yes, the Ravens knew Rice had done wrong, but their actions and words over the last seven months didn’t demonstrate an appropriate grasp of just how violently he had potentially acted.
The Ravens showed more than enough support for Rice by simply not cutting him from the start and instead allowed the legal process to play out, even if many believed they shouldn’t have even wasted that much time. However, the organization went out of its way to continuously remind everyone about how great of a guy Rice was, which — unintentionally or not — portrayed him as more of a victim than a perpetrator and showed a lack of sensitivity and compassion toward victims of domestic violence.
The recent partnership formed with the House of Ruth to help combat domestic violence was a good start, but much more will need to be done to put the memory of the last seven months behind them.
As an emotional Chris Canty stated, Monday was a sad day for the Baltimore Ravens as they severed ties with one of their biggest stars. Make no mistake, it was a sickening act committed by Rice alone that led to his deserved termination, but the Ravens only hurt themselves in the way they handled the matter along the way.
And it will take much longer to fix that tarnished reputation than it did to clean out Rice’s locker on Monday.