Ravens' handling of Ray Rice situation remains under heavy scrutiny

Team executives plan news conference to dispute new report

September 20, 2014|By Jeff Zrebiec and Aaron Wilson | The Baltimore Sun

At the beginning of what would become another tumultuous week, Ravens coach John Harbaugh made an observation about the Ray Rice fallout that will never sound as prescient as it does now.

"We're probably not going to get away from it, and probably rightly so," Harbaugh said Monday.

As the Ravens prepared for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, their organization remained under significant scrutiny for what it did and didn't do in its handling of the Rice situation.

The Ravens terminated the contract of the Pro Bowl running back on Sept. 8 after a video surfaced of Rice knocking out his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in the elevator of an Atlantic City, N.J., casino in February. However, their actions preceding that decision and following Rice's arrest continue to draw heavy criticism.

The team's top decision makers, including owner Steve Bisciotti, are expected to speak at a news conference within a couple of days, when they'll address a report that alleged the team knew of the severity of Rice's assault on Palmer, but still worked behind-the-scenes to get leniency for the running back both from the judicial system and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

In the coming weeks, Ravens officials will likely be questioned as part of former FBI director Robert Mueller's investigation into the league's handling of the Rice situation. Mueller has yet to visit the Ravens' Owings Mills training facility to conduct interviews with team personnel, but that could happen soon.

Then, there's the open-ended matter of Rice's appeal of his indefinite suspension by the NFL. Under the collective bargaining agreement, the NFL has 10 days from the filing of the appeal to set a hearing date. The NFL Players Association filed the appeal last Tuesday. Goodell will not hear the grievance.

A former NFL personnel executive who requested anonymity expressed concern for what might lie ahead for both the NFL and the Ravens, saying he wondered "who's going to fall on their sword and get fired with this ugly situation."

Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations, said in a statement on Friday night that the ESPN report contained "numerous errors, inaccuracies, false assumptions, and perhaps misunderstandings."

The team has yet to specify what those are, although a team source vehemently disputed the report's assertion that Harbaugh wanted to release Rice earlier in the offseason. Harbaugh, the source said, agreed with Rice's release only when the video of what happened inside the elevator came out on Sept. 8.

"This is new territory for us, we're learning as we go but we do believe that the fans and the people of Baltimore do need to hear our side of the story, so there will be our side of the story," Byrne said.

Byrne spoke at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday following a jersey exchange where fans were welcomed to swap NFL-licensed Rice No. 27 uniforms for jerseys of other players.

According to Byrne, about 5,600 Rice jerseys were exchanged as of noon on Saturday. When the supply ran out, about 2,400 fans got vouchers to buy jerseys at a later date. Team officials did not give an exact cost for the exchange, but said estimates were over $250,000

Norma Norris, 59, of Pasadena, who came to swap a jersey, said she believes Ravens and NFL officials saw the tape of Rice assaulting Palmer on the elevator and are trying to hide it.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun two days after Rice's release, Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome acknowledged that the organization failed in its handling of the situation. Bisciotti, who was out of the country on Friday when the ESPN report surfaced, said this month that his biggest regrets were that the organization didn't push harder to obtain a copy of the elevator video and to pursue its own investigation of the assault.

Bisciotti admitted that the organization's fondness for Rice, who had long been one of the Ravens' most productive and popular players, got in the way of better judgment.

The ESPN report included text messages from Bisciotti to Rice after the player's release in which the owner said Rice would have a job with the organization when his playing career was over in which he would help acclimate young players to the NFL.

The report also detailed Cass' efforts to get Rice accepted into New Jersey's pretrial intervention program, in part because it would keep the elevator video from going public. Cass has not returned phone calls or e-mails from The Sun.

"From what I heard, it sounds like your typical NFL reaction as far as how they handled it with a player who gets in trouble," said a former NFL general manager who requested anonymity because he's still connected to teams. "The Ravens stuck behind Ray Rice until they absolutely had to cut him. Now, they have to move on and Ray needs to move on, too."

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