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Picking up the pieces in the Ray Rice aftermath

Baltimore Beatdown writer Kris Jones is a personal friend of Ray Rice's and reflects on his career and what Rice and his family will have to endure the rest of their lives.

Kris Jones and Ray Rice met at Media Row at Super Bowl XLV and maintained a friendship since.
Kris Jones and Ray Rice met at Media Row at Super Bowl XLV and maintained a friendship since.

For most of Monday, I was at a loss for words, so this column will hopefully serve as some sense of therapy. As you may know, Ray Rice isn't just a football player to me — he's a personal friend.

Amidst the fallout of Rice's release, I attended John Harbaugh's press conference at the Under Armour Performance Center and spoke with some of Rice's former colleagues in the locker room. Frankly, the situation was really weird. Eight broadcast television trucks were in the parking lot — there are normally only two or three. There were more media members on site for one of the darkest days in franchise history than just 19 months ago for the Ravens winning the Super Bowl.

There were some other changes as well.

Rice's locker: gone.

Rice's mailbox typically overflowing with fan mail: gone.

Throughout most of the day I remained quiet. Honestly, I didn't have much to say. I was sick to my stomach, I could barely eat. I wasn't like that just because of what I saw on the video. I cared more about those personally affected by this and the fallout that this latest video's release would create. I'm not just talking about Ray Rice. I'm talking about his wife, Janay, and their two-year-old daughter Rayven.

From Day 1, I have never condoned Rice's actions, but judging from the person I know him to be personally, I stuck my head out a little more than most to reserve judgement. Just as it's hard to shake the images of the horrible scene in the elevator, I still have a tough time shaking the images of smiling children and families of those that Rice has impacted in such a positive way.

My conscience has been having a tug-of-war for the past few months, that's for sure. I owed it to Rice as a friend to reserve judgment based off my history with him and I honestly believe he would do such a thing.

A lot of people have reached out via text and Twitter for my opinion given my history with Rice. I have been searching for the best way to describe it and it finally came tonight in the locker room while Ravens defensive end Chris Canty was speaking with us. He hit the nail right on the head.

You hate the sin, but you love the sinner.

Rice and I first met in February 2011 at the Super Bowl in Dallas. I had won the DIRECTV Ultimate Displaced Fan contest and was able to not only go to the Super Bowl (and watch the Steelers lose), but would walk along Media Row for an afternoon that would forever change my life. I was allowed to be joined by a Ravens player for this time and Rice was who would accompany me as we did interviews for some of the biggest sports talk programs in the country with the likes of Jim Rome, Rich Gannon, Michael Irvin, etc. Rice was not only very outgoing, he stayed an additional two hours past the time he was obligated.

I highlight this day because it was one that forever changed my life. Interview after interview, I absolutely loved what I was doing and realized I was pretty good at it too. To have some of the most respected hosts in the industry compliment you on your knowledge and presence on the radio as an amateur was encouraging to say the least. That day, I decided to quit my job and pursue my passion in sports media, ultimately landing a full-time job covering the team and even co-hosting a weekly player radio show. Rice was even a guest multiple times on the show.

Everything came full circle and I utilized Rice as a symbol of that.

Ray Rice "The Man" vs. Ray Rice "NFL Star"

Working in sports media, the most common thing someone would say to me is, "you get to work with the players, that's so cool." The truth is, however, it's nowhere near as glorified as you think. Most players despise the media and would rather run suicide sprints than talk to you. Mix that in with the fact you're often working at an extreme discount as compared to most wages in America due to being in a job that's in high demand, being near players isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

Rice was the exception.

Ray Rice the "NFL Star" was the reason we met, but I learned so much from Ray Rice "the man" over the past 2 1/2 years. In the locker room, Rice would often call me over to his locker and we'd discuss anything you could imagine besides football. Rice knew I wasn't looking for a story and given our random way of first meeting, he took personal interest in my career. These conversations parlayed more into conversations about community events, helping others and eventually an off-field friendship beyond the Ravens facility.

All of the things I've seen Ray do in the community and in our personal time is what made me believe he wasn't capable of doing what the latest TMZ video portrayed.

No amount of goodwill can save Rice now, but he did far more than most knew. On multiple occasions, he would ask me to not document what he was doing because everyone else didn't need to know. He genuinely cared about people and he absolutely didn't care about the attention from it. I've said this multiple times in person, but I have no idea how Rice didn't win the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his work over the past seven years.

Rice is a good person, he has a gigantic heart.

But made a gigantic mistake during a lapse of judgement. Now, he's paying the price.

Where do we go from here?

I'm just as disturbed as the next person with what had transpired in the video. Absolutely nothing good comes to anyone involved with these videos. The NFL looks like a bunch of jackasses for their botched handling of the situation, which is a story that will continue to unfold. The Ravens look foolish for the way they handled this from the get-go. And Ray, Janay and their daughter Rayven will have to live with this the rest of their lives.

Think about it. Rice can't even say his daughter's name without likely thinking of this situation. Regardless if he did it to himself, it's brutal to even think about.

I only hope for a few things to come from this whole situation. They are:

  1. Rayven has a safe and positive environment to be raised in.
  2. Ray's mental health doesn't take a turn for the worse given the immense amount of scrutiny he'll forever face.
  3. Everyone in their household can get the help they need and be happy
What Rice did was deplorable and punishment is certainly deserved for his actions. However, the scrutiny he's facing could best be equated with a death sentence for how much of his life will forever change.

Rice can't go out in public with his wife without having everyone there question their relationship. Their daughter will eventually have to see a video of her father punching her mother right in the face. That will never, ever, escape this family.

The double standard

Rice is now unemployed and suspended indefinitely by the league. But he's not the only one who needs to be made an example of with the NFL's new stance on domestic violence.

Plenty of players are still participating in this game after being accused of domestic violence.

Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers was found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend and threatening to kill her. On Sunday against the Buccaneers, he had four tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble.

Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers was just arrested for felony domestic violence just days after the league introduced their domestic violence policy, but had three tackles against the Cowboys on Sunday.

Why are these guys not being crucified? Is it just because their acts weren't on video?

The truth is, Rice has company when it comes to his peers and domestic violence and it stretches far beyond Hardy and McDonald. In fact, 21 of the NFL's 32 teams have a player on the roster with a domestic violence and/or sexual assault charge.

The video was damming to Rice, but if the league wants to take a stand, they need to level it across the board. Keeping things in Baltimore, Terrell Suggs has been his own domestic violence issues, but fans still cheer him on Sunday's because there's no visual proof to the acts he was accused of committing.

Out of sight and out of mind shouldn't apply for such a serious topic. Unfortunately, it has.

Wrapping Up

I'm absolutely saddened and shocked on so many levels for what has transpired and the subsequent fallout for all parties involved. This entire situation has been mishandled on so many levels which makes it even worse and doesn't seem like it'll ever go away. Take football out of the equation. There are lives, jobs and children at stake.

As a football fan, I'm sad to see Rice go. Rice had nurtured himself back to health and looked poised for one of the best seasons in his career. The move the Ravens made was one that didn't better their football team, it was a crushing blow. However, I think that given the circumstances, it was something they needed to do.

In the end, the NFL is a business and the Ravens are an employer. There aren't many (if any) businesses that will allow the person accused of doing such an act, especially with video evidence, to continue to be a part of the organization afterwards.

As a friend, I can only hope that Ray continues with the progress he has made in his personal life and marriage despite the latest video's release. This roller coaster of emotions has to be taxing both physically and mentally. In the end, football isn't what matters here. It's the personal well-being of everyone involved as they try to pick up the crushed pieces of their lives and put them back together again.

There are parents that have to explain to their kids why they can't wear their Ray Rice jerseys anymore. Ashton Dean, one of Ray's biggest fans and someone fighting for his life suffering from LVM, a rare blood disorder, has to have this same discussion with his parents at some point. There are a lot of people let down. But hopefully this can serve as a change in the way domestic violence is handled in the NFL and between anyone for that matter.