Ray Rice is back in football.
The former Ravens running back hasn't been given a contract by an NFL team, or even a shot at making a roster in training camp, but the sport has finally welcomed him back, at least to some extent.
You, of course, know the background. Rice was caught on video punching his now-wife, Janay, in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator in 2014. He was subsequently released by the Ravens and essentially blackballed from the league. While other players who have been physically abusive received second chances despite a perceived lack of contrition (such as former pass rusher Greg Hardy), Rice remained apologetic and hoped for a second chance.
And he's getting it. Sort of.
Not only has Rice been working as a coach with the football team at his high school alma mater (New Rochelle in New York) on a volunteer level, but he also was tabbed by the NFL to be a part of the "social responsibility" video shown to all teams this May.
What exactly does Rice offer when he has the audience of young athletes? Those who know say it is incredibly valuable.
"He gave a big overview of where he came from and what he'd been through," Ohio State director of player development Ryan Stamper said. "He used the term ‘he was trying to be
the man instead of being
Rice spoke to the Ohio State football team March 8 as part of what Stamper said the program called their Live Life Wednesday series. The program brings in various speakers to discuss any number of real-life issues with the players. Rice was suggested as a speaker by Ohio State cheerleading coach Siobhan St. John (a former cheerleading coach at New Rochelle). Stamper (with approval of head coach Urban Meyer) agreed that Rice could lead a valuable discussion about domestic violence.
"There's no one in the country more qualified to speak about that than him," Stamper said. "Here's a guy who was at the top of the mountain, who at one point was the face of [domestic violence]. Why not bring him in because one, he can relate to our players, and two, he was a very successful NFL player who pretty much lost it all over one night."
Some of the statements Rice delivered to the Buckeyes included, "The truth is, if you have one bad night, that means you've got a lot of other bad things going on." He told them to "never be too afraid to ask for help, men. I think that's one of the biggest lessons I've learned throughout this whole deal. Once I realized money couldn't fix my issues, I had to start asking for help. … We're all a moment away from being where we want to be, but we're a moment away from losing it all."
Among those who saw Rice's speech at Ohio State was Mike Teel, the former quarterback at Rutgers who was Rice's teammate there. Teel is now the head coach at New Jersey's Don Bosco Prep, and he invited his friend to speak to the team as part of their Life Development Program.
"The thing that I really appreciated, the thing that I think the kids got the most out of, is that he kept it real," Teel said. "It wasn't trying to make people feel better about who he is and what happened with him. He came in and said, ‘Listen, I screwed up. I made a decision that ultimately cost me my career and cost me an opportunity to provide for my family and almost cost me my family.'"
While Rice has much to offer about his own experience, he was and is no victim, and the young men who hear Rice's testimony would be well-served to also hear from those who are. But Rice's message is clearly valuable, and more people involved with football should consider bringing him in despite any backlash that may come with his national perception.
"If you'd have heard his message and the way he spoke and just what our teams and our players got out of that and how they came and thanked us afterwards," Stamper said, "[you'd know] it worked out and it was very successful."
Issue 234: June 2017