I don't know what you think of Ray Rice. I'm not sure how closely you have paid attention to his life and vocation since striking his wife in a casino elevator, or what your background is with domestic violence. Forgiveness is an individual calculation.
But no matter your stance on the man, and his horrendous actions on that one night in question, I'd urge you to listen to him in his own words. I'd implore you to try not to judge him on his worst moment. If you are already inclined to believe in second chances for those willing to earn them, Rice's words will move you. If your heart isn't open to entertaining such a notion, Rice's words, I suggest, will still move you.
The athlete who has become synonymous with the societal plague that is domestic violence isn't running from that dubious and compromising position. He isn't mired in self-pity, and he isn't looking for sympathy, but he is holding out some hope that there is an NFL owner out there who might be willing to let him attempt to play football again, to end his career on different terms, to further his commitment to domestic violence issues with the platform that NFL Sundays would provide, to say nothing of his vow to donate all salary to those causes.
Rice's sincerity, the depth of his knowledge on these issues, his unique perspective on this game and what a privilege it is to play it, pour forth in his extended interview on the "B-more Opinionated" podcast Jerry Coleman and I conducted Thursday night (listen to the full episode here).
Rice is a man who is contrite and honest and constantly searching for ways to make some good out of the horrible act he committed, all the while gradually coming to grips with the fact that he simply might not ever play again. In a league in which men who have killed others with a DUI or have faced more egregious allegations of violent crimes have been bestowed with repeated chances, it has long baffled and saddened me that Rice hasn't even received a phone call for a workout tryout, and the specter of his crime being caught on videotape is the reason most often told to me in private by owners, coaches or executives (in both the NFL and CFL for that matter) as to why that is the case.
Rice's vow to keep no money from his salary is real and another glimpse into how profoundly moved he was by his actions and how passionate he is about trying to help others break this cycle of domestic abuse. He's lost almost everything, except for what he came to quickly realize was all that really matters -- his family and loved ones -- and his testimony undoubtedly could help so many involved in this league, if someone would merely provide that forum and opportunity.
"It's going to have to be an owner that is willing to give me a second chance," Rice said. "I go out on a day-to-day basis, and I wish I had an answer for fans that say, 'We want you back,' and as much as guys are saying, 'We want you on our team,' a lot of guys are saying, 'We want you back in the league, whether it's helping out in the league or whether it's playing.' I know it's something there I can help with, whether it's in the locker room or in the community or quite frankly, whether it's getting Fantasy points for people who love the game.
"And I'm not saying I willingly deserve a second chance. I'm not. But I will say that if there was one guy who took his situation and owned it from day one, doing everything he can to make his wrongs right, taking care of his family and trying to spread a message of how domestic violence cannot be tolerated ... Any violence of any kind is wrong, but domestic violence, there is no place for it ... I'm out spreading that message because of everything I've been through. I don't want to see anyone else go through anything like what me and my wife went through, but I'm willing to help, man, and I know being in an NFL locker room what I can do to help a young man."
Rice consulted with various experts to devise a plan on precisely to which domestic violence outreach and support groups he would donate his paychecks, and much of his time is spent helping those causes. He continues to mentor children both in his home of New Rochelle, N.Y., and back in Baltimore where he played. Weekends are spent traveling and giving talks to reconnect with the abused, sick and bullied children he was befriended as a Raven.
I've read the dozens of letters that were written by children, parents, caregivers, social workers -- on their own and without provocation -- on Rice's behalf and submitted to the District Attorney's office in Atlantic City, N.J., and his connections to those individuals remain very real.
"I know they looked at me as a football player," Rice said of the families he works with, "but I'm thankful these people see me as a person. And they knew I wasn't perfect, but they know I'm doing everything to make my situation better. I'm not sitting back and saying, 'So that happened.' I'm doing everything I can to make my situation better. And it is better."
Along those lines, he is helping coach high school and Pop Warner teams and training relentlessly in case that phone call to work out for an NFL team still comes. Through his journey he's been able to work through his depression and the suicidal thoughts he dealt with in the aftermath of striking his wife. He aims to project a positive manifestation of what people can accomplish after hitting their lowest point but will forever have to deal with that nadir being visible on the internet for eternity.
"Time does heal a lot of things," Rice told us, "and time definitely helped me out when I was going through a rough patch in life. I just didn't know which way to go, because football was my everything, and once I realized my family was still there for me, and I still had loved ones that care about me, it brought me out of that rough time, and now my day-to-day living is fine."
Rice says he is OK financially, not that he had to downsize too much as he wasn't one to ever purchase a fleet of automobiles. He has a home and wife who forgave him and a young daughter and a son on the way and his dogs and turtle and fish. He keeps himself plenty busy, because simply working out and obsessing over if or when an NFL call might come isn't conducive to his state of mind.
The most serious internal discussions about auditioning him came last year with the Browns, whose then-coach Mike Pettine knew Rice well from their time together in Baltimore. (There is not a coach I have encountered in this league who worked with Rice that does not rave about his character, work ethic and spirit, and Ravens players, coaches and management were gushing about Rice's recent address to the team's rookie this spring.) Several people within the organization were in favor of it, and it got so far that I heard at the time a locker area was going to be preserved for him to use at the team facility, but ownership scuttled it and it never materialized.
"My agents went back and forth with those guys (the Browns)," Rice said. "I don't want to say it was that close, but my deal is a lot different than other guys. I totally understand that, and I'm not sitting up here pounding my chest saying, 'Yeah, I deserve a second chance.' But I would be grateful if I had the opportunity to go out there and finish this chapter the right way."
Rice is fresh and rehabilitated mentally and physically from his years of grueling runs in the NFL. He hasn't been hit for two years, is back to being able to dunk a basketball and running for greater distances that ever before. He plays basketball and boxes as well to stay in shape. While his last season in the NFL (2013) was a down year for him, often used to discredit his chances of getting another shot at a position in which supply often seems to outpace demand, the reality is the offensive line was miserable, the entire offense stunk that year and Rice was dealing with a significant injury.
"The year I had a down year, I didn't come out of camp out of shape," Rice said. "I got hurt. I was at my playing weight, so whatever was out there is total BS, lies. I tore a muscle off the bone ... I've never showed up to training camp out of shape. You never had to worry about Ray Rice failing a conditioning test. To think that training is going to be a problem, that's not it."
Rice was humbled and buttressed by the Ravens' invitation to speak to their rookies during spring OTA practices, something owner Steve Bisciotti signed off on, and he got a chance to talk to coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome while he was there as well. He has contemplated perhaps working for an NFL team in an official player development role one day, as the opportunity to help others learn from his mistakes and to urge players to get help for their problems or expand their education base is at the core of Rice's being now.
"I have nothing but love for those guys," Rice said of the Ravens' brass. "That was my family; that still is my family. And I think me going back there shows a lot of class by the organization to say -- this is a guy that meant something to us, let's see what he's got to say. And it had nothing to do with football. It had to do with being in the rookies' face and saying, 'This is how it is. I'm going to tell you the good, the bad and ugly.'"
My words don't fully capture the emotion and weight of Rice's delivery, and I'd ask you to hear the man in full, if you truly want to formulate an opinion on his worthiness to get a chance to workout for an NFL team again.
Personally, at a time when people like Greg Hardy try to make excuses or belittle their actions against women, and with the NFL still in the public crosshairs on issues like this -- even though the vast majority of players have no such infractions, to me the NFL and its teams would be foolish not to fully embrace Rice and his message right now. But the men who love him most don't get to make decisions on that level, and it's much easier for owners to hide behind a TMZ video than it is to truly do their homework on this man and his plight.
If nothing else, Rice is a realist. He created this mess. He's trying to clean it up in some capacity, one day at a time, one troubled kid at a time, one speech at a time, one workout at a time, one quiet night at home with his family at a time. Even if his comeback never includes another handoff, his approach to his mistake is laudable, and if he remains on the path he is on he has the capacity to far surpass anything he accomplished on the field in this next, far longer, chapter of his life.
"My daughter is going to grow up knowing her dad made the worst decision of his life," Rice said, "but she will never have to worry, ever, about it happening again, and I will protect my daughter from it. I will teach my son who is on the way that it is never OK to put your hand on a woman no matter what. I will make sure he stands for something. I will tell him my mistakes, because I want my kids to have it better than me. No matter what, my kids have to have it better than me. You take money, you take everything, my kids' life has to be better than mine. And for all the adversity I made it through (as a child) and for the 30 seconds that happened in my life, I'm not proud of it, but I'm more proud of the man I became after that incident, without patting myself on the back ...
"I do understand that we live in a society where public opinion matters, and I know I can't change everyone's opinion, but the few people that run into me, the people that talk to me, I'm not running from it. We can engage in discussions. I will tell you my biggest flaws, and I will tell you my greatest triumphs, and that's what you're going to get. I am an open book. What do you wan to know about me? And that's where I'm at now.
"I think a lot of people go through things in life and they've got to hide from their problems But I don't have to hide anymore, and I feel a kind of freedom that ... Anything I went through -- whether it was my childhood, my domestic violence issue -- I don't have to run from any problems that I have in life anymore. I can kind of handle them, and deal with them, and quite frankly talk to other people to try to help them out."