Ravens say bond strong among players, organization

They've tried to keep their focus on the field, not on Rice situation

September 21, 2014|By Jeff Zrebiec and Aaron Wilson | The Baltimore Sun

CLEVELAND -- Before his final team meeting Saturday night was over, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh opened the floor to his players and asked them if they had any questions about the organization's handling of the Ray Rice situation.

The response was silence.

As the Ravens' organization continues to face heavy scrutiny for the way it responded to Rice's February assault of his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator, the players continue to say that it's not a distraction on the field. And they said they haven't lost faith in the organization.

Following a 23-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium, several players even said that all the criticism the organization is getting has even helped to strengthen the bond of the players in the locker room.

"It's not really an 'us-against the world' mentality, but we are a very close-knit group," said linebacker Terrell Suggs, the longest-tenured member of the team. "We know that we're … in the line of fire, but we're all catching it. We're a team and we're an organization and united we stand. We're not going to flinch. Who knows what an NFL season will bring? You just got to band together and sit together and do it."

The Ravens' top decision-makers, led by owner Steve Bisciotti, are expected to speak to reporters this week, perhaps as early as Monday, to respond to a recent report that alleged that the organization knew about the severity of the Rice incident but worked behind-the-scenes to get the running back leniency from the judicial system and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The Ravens released Rice on Sept. 8 after a video of the assault surfaced on gossip website TMZ. The ESPN article said that Harbaugh wanted to release Rice not long after the February assault, but was rebuked by Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome.

Asked about it after Sunday's game, Harbaugh said, "This is definitely a football day and I'll address that question [Monday]."

However, he then reversed course and said, "Every single football decision that we make, we work together. We get together, hash it out. Ozzie uses the term scrimmaging. You scrimmage it out and everybody has their opinions. It's not black-and-white. That decision was like all of the other ones. When we walked out of the room, we were united, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and that's how I felt about the decision. I thought it was the right decision, and the way we handled it all the way through was the right way to handle it. I felt we did the right thing and I stand behind it."

Rice is appealing his "indefinite suspension" as an investigation, headed by former FBI director Robert Mueller, proceeds into how the league and the Ravens handled the situation.

The Ravens players have continually expressed support for Rice and his wife, though none of them have criticized how the organization has dealt with the matter, at least not publicly.

"If we have any questions, Harbs' office is open and you can talk to him about anything," said Ravens veteran defensive end Chris Canty, the team's union player representative. "I think guys are so focused on giving ourselves the best chance to be successful. We know we have something special here."

The fallout of the Rice situation brings a new chapter seemingly every day and players obviously can't help but get caught up in some of it. However, several players denied that it is a huge topic of conversation at the team facility.

"I actually don't even pay attention to it," said veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. "I'll just leave that to whoever needs to worry about it. I haven't even thought about it really."

Quarterback Joe Flacco said that he wasn't aware of the ESPN report until he reported to the Under Armour Performance Center the day after it was released.

"It doesn't really affect me and it doesn't affect too many other [players] either," Flacco said. "I think for the most part, it involves us but it's kind of above us a little bit as players, I'm talking about. There's nothing we can really do about it at this point except go out and play football. I guess if anything, it's a bonding [thing]. It's nothing else."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

awilson@baltsun.com

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