If you listened to Steve Bisciotti’s words and read the Ravens’ lengthy response to the ESPN report accusing the organization of “purposeful misdirection” in its handling of the Ray Rice investigation, you were unlikely to feel dramatically different than you had entering Monday afternoon.
Short of documented proof of the organization securing a copy of the inside-elevator tape before the morning of Sept. 8, the saga has morphed into a case of “he said, she said” among the Ravens, the NFL, and Rice’s camp with the 100-percent truth somewhere in that abyss. Deciphering semantics, truths, half-truths, and outright lies from all involved parties hasn’t been easy for anyone trying to consume the story over the last seven months.
Most are going to believe what they want to believe by now.
But Bisciotti drew a clear line in the sand against the reporting of ESPN’s Don Van Natta and Kevin Van Valkenburg, emphatically claiming the story came from Rice’s attorney, agent, and friends invested in his appeal for NFL reinstatement. It’s a bold statement that will only encourage more digging from the media outlet — not to mention others — and could prove to be a fatal strategy should more be uncovered.
Taking nothing away from the journalistic work, the piece does present — at least in part — Rice’s side of the story, even with sources the reporters say are outside his camp. And, of course, Rice’s perspective needed to be presented, just like the Ravens and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have offered their accounts.
Unlike a fumbling and robotic Goodell speaking in New York last Friday, Bisciotti spoke with conviction — whether you believe him or not — and appeared human, at times charming and forthcoming when encouraging further questioning toward the end of his 48-minute press conference but also defiant and even dismissive of questions already answered in a release handed out to media just moments before the session began. The decision to issue the written response so close to the start of the press conference reeked of attempting to throw the media off-track and wasn’t a good look from a public relations standpoint.
The truth is Monday’s open forum with Bisciotti should have taken place two weeks ago in lieu of a few interviews with individual outlets in the days following Rice’s release. A press conference with the team’s owner should have happened long before the damning allegations were presented in the ESPN report last Friday.
“I’m sorry that we didn’t push harder to get that tape,” said Bisciotti, reiterating the same position he gave two weeks ago. “It seems to me, in hindsight, that we certainly had the leverage to say to Ray and his lawyer that we can’t have him play on our team until we see that last bit of evidence. That’s what we’re dealing with now.”
Whether subscribing fully to ESPN’s report of an egregious coverup or believing the Ravens’ account that essentially highlights the difference in perception between an open hand and a punch — should that have mattered anyway? — and makes the organization look incompetent at best, my mind keeps coming back to what Bisciotti said to The Sun the week of Rice’s release:
We kind of heard what we wanted to hear and imagined what we wanted to imagine because we loved Ray.
Even if the Ravens can successfully dispute the severity of some of the accusations presented in ESPN’s report, nothing said by Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome, or head coach John Harbaugh has adequately refuted a position of — at best — willful ignorance throughout the ordeal. Bisciotti’s claim that he “wasn’t concerned or interested enough” to secure the video isn’t believable unless the Ravens truly wanted to remain in the dark beyond what was already written in the police report, what was seen in the first video released by TMZ, and what the accounts provided by Rice and head of security Darren Sanders said.
It was only after the second video came to light that the organization changed its tune. But Bisciotti’s words on Monday seemed to confirm it was all about public fallout and had little to do with their own horror of what happened in the elevator being worse than they claimed to have originally thought.
“If we had gotten the tape early on in the spring, and Roger had seen it, then I think that it would have been a precedent-setting, multi-game, maybe eight-game suspension, or maybe indefinite,” Bisciotti said. “I think it would have been something significant, and then that would have been taken out of our hands as a team, and we would have waited for Ray’s reinstatement, and maybe we wouldn’t have had to make a decision right then and there to cut him if he had been suspended indefinitely.
“But I believe that he would have a better chance of being forgiven [after] eight games or a whole year after that tape came out. If that tape came out in March or April, I don’t think people would have been aghast. I think that it would have raised the ire of the people, and I think Roger would have responded accordingly. And I think it would have been a one-time shot, and I think it would have been significant, but Ray would have been in the same position of, ‘Do we try and appeal it?’”
In the big picture, what’s done is done and while there are more chapters to come in this story, there’s no disputing the extensive — perhaps, irreparable — damage that the Ravens have done to their own reputation. Bisciotti says no one in the organization will lose their job in the fallout, but that’s only if there is no concrete evidence that implicates him or any other members of the Ravens’ brass in an alleged coverup.
The owner’s strong stance Monday put his organization further under the microscope for scrutiny and investigation than the Ravens had already been.
Telling the truth or not is one thing, but Bisciotti and the Ravens need to be positive a smoking gun isn’t waiting to be uncovered to bring them down.
“If all I can do is try and correct our wrongs and do what we think is right, that decision to cut Ray was that,” Bisciotti said. “I can’t please those people that think we didn’t do enough.”
For the sake of the Ravens, Bisciotti better know he did the right thing on Monday and didn’t simply escalate a battle that he ultimately won’t win.