In news conference, Steve Bisciotti speaks out about ESPN report on Ray Rice

Ravens owner answers questions from reporters during 49-minute session

September 22, 2014|By Jeff Zrebiec | The Baltimore Sun

Offering an emphatic response to what he perceived as an attack on his organization’s integrity, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti on Monday rebutted a recent report saying that the organization engaged in a “pattern of misinformation and misdirection” following Ray Rice’s arrest in February.

In an unusual, nearly 50-minute news conference that brought the national media to the team’s Owings Mills training facility, Bisciotti again acknowledged the organization’s faults in how it handled the fallout of the former running back's assault on his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator.

Bisciotti, who admittedly hates such settings, was a mixture of stern, conversational, glib and apologetic. He made clear that he was only speaking to defend the organization following Friday’s release of the ESPN report. But his message may as well have been to his fan base, sponsors and stakeholders, who he hopes stick with the team during what he called the “worst crisis” of his decade tenure as the Ravens’ majority owner.

However, he vehemently disputed several aspects of the report, including the assertion that he, team president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome were fully aware of the severity of Rice’s assault on Palmer and worked behind-the-scenes to gain leniency for Rice from both the judicial system and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

“When your integrity is questioned, it's pretty humbling. Last week it was our competence being questioned. Now it's our integrity,” Bisciotti said. “Did we lie? Did we twist things? [Newsome and Cass] are handling it exactly the way I would expect them to handle it. They're embarrassed about our shortcomings but I think they're angry about being questioned on their character.”

About 15 minutes before Bisciotti spoke, the team circulated a seven-page letter to its fans in which it disputed several aspects of the report. Among the items of dispute: that Rice told the truth to team officials about what happened in the elevator; that Ravens coach John Harbaugh wanted Rice released shortly after his arrest and was overruled by higher-ranking team officials; and that team officials lobbied Goodell for a lighter punishment of Rice.

In the letter, team director of security Darren Sanders said Rice told him that he had slapped Palmer and denied punching her. Sanders also said that he didn’t gain a clear picture of the incident when an Atlantic City Police official viewed the tape and described what he saw over the phone.

“The officer could not tell from the video whether Ray slapped or punched her, but Ray told me very clearly that he did not punch her,” Sanders said. “It was not clear from the officer’s account whether it was being intoxicated, being hit, or hitting her head against the railing that caused Janay’s apparent unconsciousness.”

Harbaugh said that he concluded only after the gossip website, TMZ, published the video of the elevator assault on Sept. 8 that the Ravens needed to release Rice, while Bisciotti, Cass and Newsome all denied they contacted Goodell to ask for a lighter suspension.

Goodell handed down a widely-criticized two-game suspension in late July. However, when the second elevator video came out, the Ravens released Rice and Goodell adjusted the running back’s ban to an “indefinite suspension.” Rice and the NFL Players Association are currently appealing that suspension.

Bisciotti took aim Monday at the people advising Rice.

“I think what’s obvious is that the majority of sources [in the report] are the people that work for Ray,” Bisciotti said. “Almost everything in there is anonymous but it’s clear from the subject matter that it’s Ray’s attorney, it’s Ray’s agent and it’s Ray’s friends. They are building a case for reinstatement and the best way to build a case for reinstatement is to make everybody else look like they are lying. So, their accusations didn’t jibe with what we knew as fact.”

Rice’s attorney, Michael Diamondstein, declined comment when reached by The Sun. Rice did not return a text message seeking comment and his publicist said his side has no current plans to respond. ESPN released a statement saying “We stand behind our report.”

More scrutiny likely

Some crisis managers said Bisciotti did what he had to in defending his organization, but cautioned that the owner faces more scrutiny.

Howard Opinsky, executive vice president of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a crisis communication firm, said the Ravens’ point-by-point response to the ESPN report has the potential to be “quite powerful.”

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