WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - Former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice is waging an unrelenting crusade to get back on the field nearly a year after being booted from the National Football League - along with his $35 million contract - over a heinous case of domestic abuse.
Videos of the 28-year-old, two-time Pro Bowler’s workouts have been sent to NFL teams, as Rice crosses his fingers that executives will give him a second chance.
General managers are wringing their hands contemplating whether Rice can still deliver on the gridiron and, if he were signed, would he be an unwanted distraction off the field, NFL analysts say.
“Ray Rice deserves a chance to prove he’s a quality individual,” said Rick “Doc” Walker, a retired nine-year NFL veteran and member of the 1983 Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins.
“I say that because prior to the incident with his fiancee, he showed he was a great guy in the community... On the field, his body of work will have to command some attention.”
Rice became the poster boy for the NFL’s domestic abuse problems when he delivered a one-punch knockout to his fiancee during a fight in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February 2014.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for two games but when video of the punch went viral, he suspended the running back indefinitely and the Ravens released him.
After the public saw the video, Goodell was excoriated by the public for the light penalties he customarily gave to players who committed domestic violence. The sharp criticism led to a strengthening of the sanctions and an overhaul of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy.
Although Rice took the case to federal court and had his suspension overturned in November, no team has yet offered Rice a roster spot.
Rice, a six-year NFL veteran who possesses a combination of speed, quickness and strength, continues to sit by the phone with training camps set to begin next month. His agent, Todd France, has been contacting teams looking to get Rice a tryout.
Rita Smith, a former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and now a consultant to the NFL, said Rice deserves a second chance - with conditions.
“He’s paid a pretty huge price just because his particular case was so much more public than anyone else’s,” she said.
“This is probably his last chance, if he gets one. It’s up to him whether or not he makes the best of this. He needs to show that he’s learned something about the actions that he took that night.”
Former NFL player Walker said Rice’s chance to re-enter the league could be hurt by the changing nature of the game, where running backs are not the hot commodity they used to be. Also, Rice sat out last season and his 2013 campaign was the least productive of his career.
Sally Jenkins, a Washington Post columnist who writes on women’s issues, said Rice “deserves the same chance that any other working person does.”
“We give people second chances all the time, if they’ve completed programs and therapies, whether you’re a Hollywood executive, an NFL player or a hedge-funder ... I don’t think you can deprive someone of their entire career and their livelihood based on a one-off.”
Six-time Pro Bowler Adrian Peterson, the 2012 NFL MVP, was welcomed back to the Minnesota Vikings last month after sitting out all but one game last year over legal issues for whipping his son with a tree switch as a form of discipline.
“The better player always gets the benefit of the doubt,” said Walker.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Steve Orlofsky