By Jordan Kobritz
Most NFL players who violate the league’s personal conduct policy get a second chance—or more.
New York Jets backup quarterback Michael Vick got a second chance after serving 18 months in federal prison for running a dog-fighting ring and abusing his dogs. Vick made his way back to the NFL by proving he was truly sorry for his actions. Former Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend. He was slapped with a 10-game suspension, reduced by an arbitrator to four games and will suit up for the Dallas Cowboys in week five of the season.
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith got a second, third, fourth and fifth chance. Since 2012, Smith has been arrested for DUI, felony gun charges and making a false bomb threat. Not until his third arrest for DUI did the 49ers finally release him. Defensive end Ray McDonald, Smith’s teammate, also received multiple chances. After he was accused of domestic violence and sexual assault in separate incidents, the 49ers released him. McDonald was then signed by the Chicago Bears, but in May, they also released him after two more arrests.
Numerous other NFL players have been convicted and/or suspended by the league for DUIs, domestic violence and sexual assault, yet they received a second chance—in some cases, multiple chances. But Ray Rice is the exception. Prior to the 2014 season, Rice was suspended indefinitely for an altercation with his then-girlfriend, now wife, in which he cold-cocked her at an Atlantic City casino. Rice’s crime mirrors that of Hardy and McDonald, but no team has signed him after he was released by the Baltimore Ravens. So why has he not he received a second chance?
Unfortunately for Rice, unlike the incidents mentioned above, the entire sequence was captured by an elevator camera, and the video was released to the public. No one saw a video of Vick hanging his dogs, one of Hardy with his hands around his girlfriend’s throat as she was pleading for her life or one of McDonald sexually assaulting his victim. The Rice video was brutal. There is no way to justify, condone or explain Rice’s actions. He has tried to make amends, and turn the incident into a positive, at least for others. In a recent interview with ESPN’s Jemele Hill, Rice said “Domestic violence is real … My video put the light out there. If you have never seen what domestic violence looks like, and you look at my video, I could understand why some people would never forgive me.”
But this should not be about forgiveness. That is between Rice and his wife. The only questions we should be asking are whether Rice should be given a second chance, assuming his contrition is real, or forever barred from playing in the NFL—in effect, losing his career over what he admits was “…the worst decision I’ve ever made in my life.”
Rice has never denied culpability for his actions. In his first interview with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, even before the tape was released, Rice told Goodell what he had done. After the tape was made public, Goodell claimed he was never made aware of the seriousness of Rice’s actions. That is not the only time the commissioner has lied—a recently released transcript of Tom Brady’s DeflateGate is another example of his dishonesty.
Rice did not lie about what he had done and has tried to atone for it. He completed counseling, and according to one NFL suit, Rice has done everything asked of him. He has become a spokesperson against domestic violence speaking wherever and whenever invited, including at his alma mater, Rutgers University.
Although precedent dictates that Rice should be given the opportunity to resume his NFL career, it would take courage for any team to extend Rice an invitation to training camp. The elevator video would be played repeatedly on local media outlets. Critics would picket the team’s facility. Rice is 28-years-old in a league where running backs are the most disposable players on the team, so he sits on the sidelines while the first NFL exhibition games are underway.
It may not be a popular stance, but Rice has earned a chance to resurrect his NFL career.
(Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and the Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland. Jordan maintains the blog SportsBeyondTheLines.com and can be reached at email@example.com.)