Ray Rice faces fan fallout

Some are tossing his jersey, others remain loyal after domestic violence case

  • Lindy Burruss, a sales associate at Wild Bill's sporting goods on Belair Road, straightens a display of toddler-sized Ray Rice and other jerseys.
Lindy Burruss, a sales associate at Wild Bill's sporting… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
July 30, 2014|By Julie Scharper and Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

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.

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