Ray Rice's journey back to the NFL has been a long, arduous, and a lonely one, with sparse supporters. Yet the unemployed Rice has found allies in the most unlikely of places.
"We have been around a lot of abusive men, but our experience with Ray has been tremendously positive. We feel strongly about him having the opportunity of having a second chance. He's deserving of it."
These were the words of Tony Porter, who along with Ted Bunch founded A Call To Men, a national domestic violence prevention group whose aim is to "shift social norms that negatively impact our culture and promote a more healthy and respectful definition of manhood." The two have been working with Rice since last November, and are very impressed with him. They believe what many don't, that Rice deserves a second chance.
The duo have followed Rice for the past nine months, working extensively alongside him. They've seen Rice speak at both his alma mater, Rutgers, and his other alma mater, Rochelle High School. In both speeches, Rice delivered "a message about learning from your mistakes and changing the narrative of your life."
The latter sentiment is something both Porter & Bunch think Rice has done.
"He has a desire to compete again, but also to make a difference in the world. This is what mistakes should be about: learning from them and teaching others. We've been in front of a lot of batterers. He is as transparent as I've seen, and as sincere as I've seen."
Not only is he doing this for himself, but he's also trying to prove himself to his daughter, Rayven. When Rayven looks at her dad's Wikipedia entry, he wants her to see the good he did, not the bad that happened that fateful night in Atlantic City.
While Rice is attempting to restore his off-field image, teams still aren't impressed enough by his play on the field to risk the bad press signing him could bring.
The last time Rice played in 2013, he posted a dismal 3.1 YPC. Yet many forget that he was fighting a hip injury, which required offseason surgery, and had an awful O-Line to run behind. The whole 2013 Ravens offense was a dumpster fire, and Rice wasn't immune to that. A return to the Ray Rice of old, when he was a top-tier back, wouldn't be improbable, as "one Ravens executive even remarked that last summer Rice looked like the Pro Bowl running back he once was before the national controversy erupted."
Despite the growing support from these two, and his former coach Greg Schiano, Rice still has a long road ahead of him. No matter how hard he works to improve his off-field image, or his on the field skills, Rice still has to overcome the huge stigma associated with him. For that to happen, a team has to throw Rice a lifeline. So far, one team "seriously considered" bringing Rice aboard, but opted out over fear of bad PR. It's also reasonable to concur that teams may be skeptical of signing Rice due to the texts he leaked to ESPN, thus burning bridges with the Ravens. It's totally reasonable to think that owners may find Rice untrustworthy after this incident. After all, Coach Eric Mangini, who leaked 'Spygate' to the world said he had a hard time finding a job afterwords because no one trusted him.
Unfortunately for Rice, he truly seemed to be the scapegoat for domestic violence in the NFL. Yet teams have given guys like Michael Vick a second chance before, and it seems that Rice, who was seemingly an 'A+ role model' for players before the incident is deserving of one too.
All it takes is one team.