Ray Rice isn’t Lawrence Phillips

Note: This was originally written on 7/24, predating Peter King’s excellent column by a couple of hours.

There is no point in even picking an article about Ray Rice’s two game suspension to analyze, as they are all roughly interchangeable in their condemnation of Rice and his relatively light suspension. (General fan sentiment is about the same.) After all, Rice was involved in an alleged domestic violence incident at an Atlantic City video several months ago that was publicized in a widely-circulated video of a clearly inebriated Rice dragging an unconscious Janay Palmer out of an elevator. This behavior is unacceptable, and Rice has acknowledged it as such, numerous times. Rice and his now-wife, who have recently started a family, met repeatedly with law enforcement and league officials before he entered a pre-trial diversion program, and the 2 game suspension was announced.

After the case against him largely evaporated, Rice’s attorney gave a "hypothetical" account to a New Jersey radio station in May that was meant to give Rice’s explanation of his inappropriate conduct.

"Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, rather than enter into the pretrial diversionary program that he entered into, we hypothetically move forward on the case. Hypothetically, we litigate 100 motions, and the video comes out and the video shows — hypothetically speaking now, hypothetically speaking — shows that Ray wasn’t the first person that hit and Ray was getting repeatedly hit, but just Ray hit harder, fired one back and hit harder.

"Hypothetically speaking, and he gets found not guilty. Is that result somehow better? Is it better for the public? Is it better for the Ravens? Is it better for Ray? Is it better for Janay [Rice]?"

According to Atlantic City police, who based their case on video surveillance, including a portion of a video that was leaked online and shows Rice dragging his unresponsive then-fiancee out of the elevator, the couple hit each other with their hands during a physical altercation.

Both Janay Palmer, who’s now Janay Rice, and Ray Rice initially were charged with simple assault-domestic violence. Her charge was later dismissed by prosecutors, and Rice’s case was upgraded to the more serious charge of felony aggravated assault after it was reviewed.

"His wife was arrested initially as well," Diamondstein said. "And the prosecutors, for whatever reasons — I can’t speak for the prosecution — they decided to drop the charges against Janay and simply go prosecute Ray."

It’s true that marrying Rice, standing by him with his case, and attending his apology press conference does not constitute evidence of his lack of culpability, as plenty of women have done all of those things for some really degenerate slime balls. She does have clear, obvious incentives to cooperate with him, and co-dependency is a real phenomenon that ruins many lives and relationships. Similarly, wealthy defendants with strong counsel have a knack for success in the legal system. Still, the evidence about serial abusers constitutes an inference, not an ironclad rule, and it’s interesting how self-described advocates for women’s rights do not think that Janay can possibly speak for herself or have her own valid opinion on the subject.

What the media and fan critics today are ignoring, at their own peril, is the critical factor that led into the decision by law enforcement, the team, and the league. Ray Rice is in no way, shape, or form a Lawrence Phillips, renown for his serial abuse of women and other misdeeds. Indeed, before this ugly incident, he was heralded universally as by far one of the best citizens in the league if not all of sports. It’s completely, and utterly out of character in all respects. He’s not Phillips, or another serial abuser (of subordinates) in Mike Rice (even if the media utterly failed in providing context in all respects with that case as well.) The reason Rice is getting off lightly is that any reasonable person who was remotely familiar with him could not possibly conclude other than this was a completely isolated incident; utterly in contrast to everything else he has ever done, and wholly unlikely to ever repeat.

It’s absolutely true that in some cases, a critical mistake like this can have horrific consequences that cannot be undone. You can ask Phil Nelson about that, who should probably spend a few decades rotting in jail if it is true that he beat a person half to death as is being alleged by local police. And yet, there was no evidence in either Rice or Nelson’s case, at least publicly available, of any off-field discretions. That’s even with the common factor in both cases: a whole bounty of alcohol that quickly destroyed both of their senses of judgment and critical faculties on the nights of their misdeeds. Sensible people of course do not drink alcohol to excess in that matter, and the drunk are accountable for their actions, but it’s still a leap too far to allege character defects like these are things that both would have intentionally done had they been sober and in their right minds.

Domestic abuse should not happen under any circumstances, but it’s important to keep proper perspective here in taking into account all available evidence. There is no indication that this is anything other than a one-time, (and still, horrific) incident rather than a continued pattern of behavior. Phillips should rot in jail. The Rice family should seek counseling, and Ray should donate a good portion of his paycheck to help battered women, and become a public advocate for why his behavior was so wrong. He should counsel young men and women across the country about how to make proper choices, and to not put themselves in positions where they could even have the chance of committing the same mistakes that he did. However, he should not have to forfeit his career because of this terrible error. He should have the opportunity to set his ledger right with time and earn back everyone’s trust with his actions. With the Ray Rice that I know, and that the whole Rutgers community knows, there is absolutely no doubt that is exactly what will happen.