Last year NFL star Ray Rice committed a single act of unforgettable and inexcusable violence against then fiancee Janay Palmer. This year he and his now wife Janay hope he will be back in the NFL, a platform he has used to aggressively combat adolescent bullying in the past. As the founder of an anti-bullying organization, I hope he gets a second chance and continues his anti-bullying crusade this year, and for many years to come.
The couple is infamous for what went down in a New Jersey casino elevator, where Ray knocked Janay out with one left-handed strike, leading to his arrest on assault charges. Rice was later cut by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended by the NFL. He won his appeal and is now clear to play, if a team will have him.
Ray's deplorable but isolated act does not come close to the damage caused by bullying, and it doesn’t make him a bully. We need more people like him who, once amends are made, to combat what is now the #1 form of child abuse in America.
The couple's botched press conference in May, where he failed to publicly apologize to Janay, led many to condemn him further. Fox Sports wrote, "Most of what (Ray Rice) said left the public and media shaking their heads."
I met with Ray the day before that botched press conference while working at the Raven’s training camp to help rookies and free agents better handle experiences with high school and college bullying. I encouraged him, when the time was right, to continue his anti-bullying crusade. His eyes watered because he deeply wants to be a hero to children again.
Why would an anti-bullying advocate want Rice to have a second chance and to stay in the anti-bullying game under the right circumstances? Because Ray's deplorable but isolated act does not come close to the damage caused by bullying, and it doesn’t make him a bully. We need more people like him who, once amends are made, to combat what is now the #1 form of child abuse in America.
Rice is even willing to get political to fight bullying. He supported "Grace's Law," a landmark, anti-cyberbullying law passed in Maryland. “I truly hope that he continues his anti-bullying work,” says Christine McComas, mother of the late Grace McComas, 15, whose suicide is attributed to cyberbullying. “His help was probably the single biggest factor that led to the new anti-cyberbullying law named after our daughter, which has already saved lives. His empathy and support of our family in our worst hour will never be forgotten. I have four daughters, so I’m sensitive to domestic violence. I have no reason to believe he is a serial abuser, and think he should be given the chance to redeem himself. Maryland owes a lot to that man.”
Also, people within the Ravens organization who knew Ray well told me that what happened in that elevator was inexcusable, yet also did not define Ray’s real character. Matt Lauer of the TODAY Show, while interviewing Janay, said he received numerous phone calls from people who know Ray personally. They also said that what happened in that elevator was an aberration from his usually strong character.
Rice is guilty of a single act of inexcusable violence; an act Janay says didn’t happen before and hasn’t happened since that fateful day. By contrast, most acts of bullying are premeditated, and don’t stem from flashes of anger but rather contempt and disdain toward a target. Bullies, including domestic abusers, wed power to fear as part of a psychological campaign of cruelty in order to dominate, control, intimidate and isolate another. Yet Janay says Ray’s behavior before or after this one event includes none of this.
In nearly a year since the punch felt around the NFL, not one woman has come forward to accuse Rice of similar abuse. This supports Janay's statement that what happened was an isolated incident, something Janay said during her TODAY Show interview with Matt Lauer.
According to Janay, good may come from this single and deplorable act. She told Lauer that though the claims of serial abuse are false, “God chose us for a reason.” The couple also says that this incident, which pushed Ray into mandatory and intense counseling, made them better people, including how it compelled them to rededicate themselves to their Christian faith.
If we can’t give the Rice family the benefit of the doubt, then let’s give them the benefit of time this new year, which will tell us whether he has truly seen the light.
I believe that time will do more than tell. I believe it's on his side in 2015.
Paul Coughlin is an expert witness regarding bullying and the law, a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From Bullying-Courage, Character & Leadership for Life, which provides a comprehensive and community-wide solution to adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, faith-based organizations, and other places where bullying can be prevalent.