There has to be a line somewhere. A line where the punishment stops, and the path to redemption begins. No one on this site, nor any sports fan condones domestic violence, but every man and woman, regardless of their transgression, deserves another chance..
Michael Vick got his. So have many, many others. Some took the initiative to follow through with their change -- others did not.
As a rookie in 1998, Leonard Little killed a 47-year-old woman while driving drunk, with his blood alcohol level more than double the legal limit. Little pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 90 days in the city workhouse, four years probation and 1,000 hours of community service. The NFL suspended him for eight games in 1999. He went on to play 11 more seasons in the NFL, which gave him time to get caught drunk driving again, and allegations of harassment from a former girlfriend. Other examples include Donte Stallworth (killed a man while driving under the influence), Randy Starks (domestic violence). Check out the NFL Arrests database. (You'll be thoroughly disgusted.)
The most recent are Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy. The allegations against both were much more severe than those against Ray Rice. Among the allegations against McDonald, were that he choked his accuser, and there was visible evidence of this. There were additional allegations of sexual assault against him. Yet the Chicago Bears were willing to give him a second chance, although they have since cut him when additional charges surfaced.
The allegations against Greg Hardy were also more severe: including choking, throwing his accuser in an empty bathtub, dragging her by her hair, and more violent, abusive actions. He was actually convicted in a bench trial, but in North Carolina a defendant gets an automatic appeal with a jury trial, for which the accuser did not show up. Reeks of a financial settlement. Despite this, the Dallas Cowboys not only signed him, but also handed him an elite one-year salary, although they did protect themselves from Hardy being unable to play. Frank Clark, who was recently drafted in the second-round in the 2015 NFL Draft, was dismissed from the team for domestic abuse accusations.
This all leads to the question: Why is Ray Rice still unemployed?
Rice's actions, while egregious, are not in the vicinity of the level of recent offenses charged to others . Yet his was caught on tape. Is that alone enough to make him unemployable? He was a model citizen and a pillar of the community before then, and has stayed out of trouble since his trial. So what is behind his inability to even get an audition?
Some point toward the severe decline in his numbers in the season preceding the incident. While this may be a factor, it is severely overblown. Every Ravens fan remembers the worst offensive line in a decade, possibly in Ravens history. Rice also had added weight, which he shed immediately following the season, since it led to diminished explosiveness. Not to mention that Rice's backup, Bernard Pierce, who was coming off a very good season in 2012, regressed even more and averaged lower yards per carry than Rice.
Rice looked to have his explosiveness back in training camp in 2014, before he was cut following the release of the elevator tape. I do not buy it. Neither should you.
Another potential reason some point to is that he does not play a premium position, so he is not worth the trouble. Plus, Rice hasn't played in a year. But when he did, he was a perennial Pro Bowler, and elite receiving threat out of the backfield -- I do not buy that claim either. Neither should you.
Don Banks of SI.com recently published an article entitled "Will Ray Rice Play In the NFL Again?"
Banks phoned around the league asking team executives two questions:
- Did they anticipate any team signing Rice either before training camp or during the preseason?
- If so, which team or teams seemed to be the most likely candidates to pursue Rice at some point?
Banks received 12 responses, and they seem split down the middle. Here are a couple quotes:
I believe Rice will get that shot -- the question really is when or where.
Rice definitely needs a strong team who marches to the beat of their own drum. Banks quotes a source who thinks he winds up in Kansas City, playing for the same coach who took the risk of signing Michael Vick, Andy Reid. I don't see a reason they bother with a great running back and an above-average backup in the fold.
Dallas would be the type of team to take a chance and extend their hand. They have a glaring need at the position too. Nevertheless, with Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory under contract, not to mention the legal issues with Joseph Randle last year and Dez Bryant in the past, I think it is too much even for them. The Carolina Panthers is another team with a need who I could see signing Rice, but they are barely removed from the Greg Hardy era there as well.
The three teams that leaves in my mind are the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, and New England Patriots. All strong, established organizations with leaders on the staff and in the locker room. The Patriots are the favorites in my mind. The depth chart is extremely unproven beyond LeGarrette Blount , with James Develin, Travis Cadet and Jonas Gray as the other top backs following the departure of Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley. Rice would be an ideal complement for Blount, although Cadet was signed with that role in mind. Brady and Rice would wreak havoc together, and the Patriots have a strong organization which really does not care what anyone else thinks. Maybe rubbing it in the Leagues face following Deflategate would be an added bonus for them too.
The Jets have a mish-mash of backs, with the aforementioned Ridley, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Zac Stacy under contract. None of them have the skill-set Rice has, and there are many overlaps in their abilities. Their offensive line is stout with several veteran locker room pillars, so I do not think there would be much worry there.
The Falcons are a less likely scenario, but their depth chart is also very unproven. My money is on the Patriots though.
The bottom line is this: I hope Rice gets his chance. Soon. I feel strongly that what is happening to him is wrong: he is being scapegoated. But I hope and expect that soon he will be given that opportunity, and I hope for his sake that he grabs it and runs and never looks back.