Janay Rice, the student, mother, friend

Friends and former professors describe the woman behind the headlines

  • Janay Rice and her husband, then-Ravens running back Ray Rice, at a news conference in May at the Under Armour Performance Center.
Janay Rice and her husband, then-Ravens running back Ray Rice,… (Kenneth K. LAM, Baltimore…)
September 13, 2014|By Julie Scharper and Yvonne Wenger | The Baltimore Sun

She is the girl from a rundown neighborhood who became class president at a posh prep school. A quiet and driven Towson University student. An adoring mother. One of the unofficial leaders of the sisterhood of wives and girlfriends of Ravens teammates.

Janay Ashley Rice is also a woman America has seen knocked unconscious by the man she loves.

The grainy clip of her now-husband, former Ravens running back Ray Rice, punching her in an elevator has been played repeatedly on national media in the past week. Millions have watched Rice dragging her limp body from the elevator.

Pundits have advised the former Janay Palmer to leave Rice, whom she married the day after he was indicted on a charge of aggravated assault. They have said her support for her husband is a symptom of battered wife syndrome. Critics have derided her; some have even blamed her for the violence.

But to those who know her best, 26-year-old Janay Rice is more than Ray Rice's wife. She is ambitious. Compassionate. A woman of inner strength.

When Kareema Roach moved to Baltimore in 2012 after her fiance, Bobby Rainey, joined the Ravens, Janay Rice was the first woman to reach out, she recalled.

"She had open arms," said Roach, 24, who now lives in Tampa Bay, Fla., where Rainey plays for the Buccaneers. "She takes everyone in."

Professors at Towson University, where Janay Rice earned a bachelor's degree in mass communications last December, were impressed by the determination of the young woman from the New York suburb of Mount Vernon.

"She was always on top of her game. I don't think she ever turned in an assignment late," said Jennifer Potter, who taught Rice in an upper-level course.

Rice was intent on completing her degree — despite the fact that her husband was, at the time, under a $35 million contract with the Ravens. The team released him this week after the video emerged. He has also been indefinitely suspended by the NFL.

"She would always talk about how she wanted to be a good role model for her daughter," Potter said. "She wanted to show her how important college was."

Professor Sandy Nichols said Janay Rice was "the kind of student you wanted to have in class."

"She wasn't the top student, but she was a hard worker," Nichols said. "She was attentive. She participated."

Both professors said they were devastated when they learned of the attack.

"From the very beginning, we were just heartbroken," said Nichols. "We want her to know how much we feel for her, and we hope she's getting help."

Janay Rice declined to be interviewed for this article. At the couple's Reisterstown home, she told a reporter that the family planned to hire a public relations firm before making further comment.

But she did post an emotional plea on Instagram the day after the video surfaced and her husband was released from the team.

"To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret everyday is a horrible thing," she wrote. "If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you've succeeded on so many levels."

Sandi Timmins, executive director of the House of Ruth Maryland, a domestic violence shelter and advocacy group, said women and some men can suffer domestic violence regardless of how much money they earn, how many years of schooling they've had or how much success they've enjoyed in their careers.

"It affects people in every socioeconomic situation you can think of," Timmins said. "Every community shares it equally. There is no pocket where it is more prevalent than another."

Timmins has met with Janay and Ray Rice, but her comments were of a general nature and not directed at any specific situation.

Janay Rice describes herself as "Mrs. Rice & Rayven's Mommy" on her Instagram account, and includes this quote from the Book of Isaiah: "No weapon formed against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you."

Since an initial video of the attack in an Atlantic City casino surfaced in February, the couple has portrayed the incident as an anomaly — a terrible moment in an otherwise healthy relationship.

At a news conference, Janay Rice apologized for what she described as her role in the attack. The Ravens tweeted that comment. Last week, after the video showed Ray Rice as the principal aggressor, the tweet was deleted.

Roach said she talked with Janay Rice at a retreat for Christian professional athletes that both couples attended in March, just weeks after the attack.

"She only had positive things to say about him," she said.

Roach said that during the many times that the couples hung out together in Baltimore, she saw no indication that Ray Rice could be violent.

"I would have never in a million years thought this would happen. I still to this day don't want to believe it," she said. "I've seen them argue, but I never heard him raise his voice."

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