Janay Rice
ESPN screenshot

“What the hell is Janay Palmer thinking?”

It was the question asked by nearly everyone who saw “that video,” the one that clearly showed Palmer’s then-fiance, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, knocking her unconscious on an elevator, then dragging her limp body off it. She’d stayed with Rice after that—married him, even. And she publicly apologized at a press conference and then publicly defended him when he was dropped by his team and indefinitely suspended by the NFL.

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For domestic violence survivors, it was textbook behavior. For those who had never been abused, it was baffling. Was she doing it for the money? Did she grow up in an abusive home where this was normal? Was she a “classic victim” of domestic violence? How will she explain staying to her daughter someday?

These were just the start of the questions, and finally Janay Rice has publicly answered them (and more) in an interview with ESPN’s Jemele Hill, which was published on Nov. 28, preceding a much-hyped two-part TV interview with Today’s Matt Lauer, which airs Monday and Tuesday mornings this week.

There is no question about the timing of these print and TV interviews. On Friday Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension from the NFL was overturned, making him eligible to play again. Rice—and his wife—are on a de facto apology tour to clean up Rice’s image and make him less of a PR nightmare to potentially interested NFL teams.

Janay Rice’s account to Hill doesn’t quite do the job in this sense, though she does try hard—too hard, even. Many parts of her interview come across as too sanitized, too “handled” by a crisis manager that taught Janay Rice how to spin a story instead of telling it plain.

Janay Rice earnestly talks about her husband’s community service and the amount of counseling they received. She conveniently doesn’t recall what they fought over the night she was knocked out, and says she was completely uninjured after receiving that blow to the face that left her unconscious. In fact, Janay Rice says she felt “perfectly fine.” She might as well have said, “See, my husband’s not a bad person; the punch didn’t even hurt.”

But even the neat version of Janay Rice’s story can’t cover up what she ultimately is: a domestic violence victim—though she doesn’t consider herself one—blaming herself and defending her abuser. She repeatedly talks about her bad attitude the day she was knocked unconscious. She describes how she agitated Ray Rice by reaching for his phone, and that’s why he spit on her, as if that is a reasonable response. She claims that she’d never experienced domestic violence before (or since), but it took only hours for her to forgive her man, whom she also never considered leaving.

Here are the top revelations from Janay Rice’s ESPN interview:

1. She doesn’t remember much.

Janay Rice: “We got into the elevator, and what happened inside is still foggy to me. The only thing I know—and I can't even say I ‘remember’ because I only know from what Ray has told me—is that I slapped him again and then he hit me. I remember nothing else from inside the elevator.

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“The next thing I do recall is being in the casino lobby, surrounded by cops. … The cops tried to tell me what happened and I refused to believe them. … There were no marks on my face or body, and I felt perfectly fine.”

2. She forgave him the next day.

“Ray accepted responsibility from the moment we left the police station. … At first I was very angry, and I didn’t know what to say. This came out of nowhere. Nothing like this had ever happened before. I knew it wasn’t him.

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“But as angry as I was, I knew it was something that we could move on from because I know Ray. I thought about our daughter. When she comes in the room, it’s like nothing is going on. We knew it was definitely going to take work, and we knew we had to be by each other’s side. I just needed to get away from him for a little while and spend a few hours taking my space to get my thoughts together.”

3. She never thought twice about marrying Ray Rice.

“We were married March 28, the day after he was indicted for aggravated assault. We didn’t choose that day because of the indictment. It just happened to be a Friday and a time when our families could attend our wedding without having to interrupt their work schedules. I didn’t understand why that was suspicious to some people. We’d been together seven years and had been engaged for two. What happened that night wasn’t going to change the fact that we were going to get married.

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“If anyone knows me, they know I never have and never will be with Ray because of what he can do for me. I stuck with Ray because I truly love him.”

4. She felt that apologizing at the press conference was the right thing to do. 

“I know some people disagreed with me publicly apologizing. … But at the same time, who am I to put my hands on somebody? I had already apologized to Ray, and I felt that I should take responsibility for what I did. Even though this followed the Ravens’ suggested script, I owned my words.”

5. She’s never watched the video of Ray Rice knocking her unconscious.

“How was seeing it going to help me? I knew that would only bring me back there. After Ray watched it, I asked him not to look at it again, because I knew it was only the devil trying to come in and ruin how far we’ve come. I refused to go backwards.”

6. She doesn’t believe she’s a “victim.”

“I still find it hard to accept being called a victim. I know there are so many different opinions out there about me—that I’m weak, that I’m making excuses and covering up abuse—and that some people question my motives for staying with Ray.

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“However, I’m a strong woman and I come from a strong family. Never in my life have I seen abuse; nor have I seen any woman in my family physically abused. I have always been taught to respect myself and to never allow myself to be disrespected, especially by a man.”

7. What she’ll tell her daughter (when she’s old enough).

“I don’t know exactly what I’ll say, but we’ll be honest with her. I will obviously tell her that it was wrong and it’s not something that you allow, and to respect herself foremost, just like I was told as a child. But I’ll also tell her that people make mistakes and you have to learn from them.”

Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter.

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