Ray Rice, barring a dramatic set of miraculous circumstances, will never play for the NFL again.
I know it. He knows it. Me, you, your mama and your cousin, too, know it. The homegirl from around the way knows it. Bonita Applebum may not know it yet, but she's about to know it once I shoot her a text. ESPN damn well knows it, too. Yet here we are, being forced to entertain the feeble concept of some sort of “redemption” story from a second chance that almost all of sports media collectively realizes is dead in the water.
Of course, this whole song and dance is partially due to the summer months’ tendency to be a narrative dead zone for compelling sports news. But the Olympics have been in full swing for a solid few days now, and instead of an in-depth analysis of where exactly Michael Phelps’ gills are located, we get to hear about how Rice is being “blackballed” and “unable to feed his family” for a “tragic situation” or “unfortunate circumstance” or “what he went through” or the litany of euphemisms used to minimize what happened on camera that fateful day in February 2014.
Ray Rice coldcocked his now-wife, Janay Rice, and knocked her out cold. He left her body by the elevator door for an extended period of time. He then dragged her, unconscious, back to their hotel room. That is not an “unfortunate situation” or “experience he went through.” It was a horrific moment of abuse that was recorded for the world to see. To try to smooth it over as anything else is a disservice to all the work that Rice says he has been doing on domestic- and intimate-partner-violence awareness and counseling.
It is also not the reason Rice isn’t going to lace up his cleats to go anywhere beyond his kids’ career day. At least not the primary one.
Accepting the premise that the Stephen A. Smiths and the Jason La Canforas would have you believe about Rice’s aggressive blackballing would require you to implicitly be convinced that the NFL, along with its respective teams and owners, cares on a moral level about violence against women. The same NFL that originally suspended Rice two games? Whose team had a press conference compelling Janay Rice to apologize for her role in the incident? That had access to the tape before it was leaked to the general public but chose to attempt to contain it?
Let’s zoom out from Ray Rice for a second. Are we talking about the same league that finally showed Greg Hardy the door, not because he tossed his girlfriend on a futon and choked her until she begged to die, but because he was testy with his coaching staff? Or perhaps we’re referring to the one where Ben Roethlisberger’s affinity for allegedly violating coeds is superseded by his passer rating? How about the one where everyone stopped talking about Adrian Peterson’s child-abuse charges once he led the NFL in single-season rushing yards?
I could continue to play 21 questions here until the cows come home, but I think I’ve made my point fairly obvious: Any assumption that the NFL has a moralistic high ground whatsoever with regards to violent crimes is a fallacy.
That said, all the stories I’ve mentioned have one thing in common: The individuals in question all had the ability to continue to play at a high level in the NFL. This is not an asset in Rice’s possession. The last full season he played prior to the assault at the running back slot—arguably the most replaceable offensive role in football for an average player—had him rushing for 660 and averaging 3.1 yards per carry, an almost 50 percent decrease in production from the prior season. He has missed two full seasons since and is approaching his 30th birthday as he tries to fight for a spot in a position that has players not named Adrian generally averaging three good seasons before their decline. Ask Peyton Hillis.
Certainly Rice is not the worst available running back out there from a performance standpoint. After all, Trent Richardson somehow still has a chance to suit up for a team this season. Richardson never two-pieced his girl on camera, though. Neither did Darren McFadden. And yes, maybe we can accept the idea that Rice’s poor showing in 2013 was largely predicated on an underreported injury. The fact remains, however, that a low-performing player who requires no P.R. cover has a higher upside than a middling one with no field time in several years and a large media narrative to overcome, and who is approaching the wrong side of 30.
Long story short: I have a better chance of spending one magical night with Serge Ibaka in Orlando, Fla., than Rice has of donning an NFL jersey—especially considering that my boy Chris actually partied with him in Paris (and didn’t even show him a picture, a grudge I will hold against him until he meets his maker).
All this other discussion about a second chance and learning his lesson and finger wagging for the public about what a shame it is that he can't earn a living for his family is extraneous to me. There's a greater discussion to be had about how the NFL certainly treats its players like disposable Wet Wipes, for sure. Unfortunately, Rice isn’t the one to lead this conversation—and shouldn’t continue to try to frame the media cycle around him moving past domestic violence. It’s disingenuous, minimizing and exploitative of the circumstances around him, and dismisses the crux of the reason that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s bosses aren’t taking his calls.
Spare us the story about giving your check to domestic violence organizations and just continue to do work for them if that’s the lane you so choose. Advocacy is important and critical, especially from male voices calling out other men for violent behavior. Nevertheless, continuing to insist that an “unfortunate night” is the only reason Rice is getting sent straight to voicemail on the second ring is a half-baked assertion at best and irresponsibly inaccurate at worst. If Rice is truly dedicated to advocacy, he should stop conflating his owning up to his abusive past with returning to the NFL and accept that his next professional steps will likely not be found in a training camp anytime soon.
Shamira Ibrahim is a 20-something New Yorker who likes all things Dipset. You can join her as she waxes poetic about chicken, Cam’ron and gentrification (gotta have some balance) under the influence of varying amounts of brown liquor at Very Smart Brothas.