Seth Wenig/AP

For the disgraced former Ravens running back, the reality of returning to football relevance might be out of the question. But restoring his name off the field, where at one time he was lauded for his passion to help people, can still be achieved

By Don Banks
November 12, 2014

From all indications emanating from last week’s two-day appeal hearing before arbitrator and former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones, Ray Rice could well win NFL re-instatement soon, theoretically returning to the ranks of active player. That ruling likely won’t result in putting him back on the field in 2014, of course, but it should be the impetus for a different kind of comeback.

We don’t know if he’ll ever be able to resurrect his NFL game, but more importantly, Rice needs to get busy re-building his good name. He needs to get out there again, on whatever field is available to him, and begin working to re-gain some of the high ground he once held before his ugly domestic violence episode occurred last winter, when his face became synonymous with disgrace.

For Rice, the reality is a return to football relevance might be out of the question. A restored reputation is not.

Rice has been almost invisible since that explosive second video surfaced in early September. That’s largely understandable, given the pariah status his act of violence earned him. He and his now-wife Janay have hopefully taken time to heal, do the necessary tough work on their relationship and put some distance between them and their personal nightmare. But with or without the blessing of NFL re-instatement, it’s soon time for Rice to come out of hiding and resume if not his career, then his efforts to begin a second act.

Whether the public is ready or not, Rice can’t be overly concerned with any further backlash. Ultimately only he has any real power to declare the statute of limitations reached on his transgression, and turn the page with the intent of proving he’s still the person we thought we knew before that fateful night last February.

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That Ray Rice was the face of many laudable community service efforts in and around Baltimore, a high-profile anti-bullying campaign in Maryland, and perennially one of the most committed and active Ravens players when it came to making a difference off the field. One of the good guys, it was largely believed.

Was all that a phony show, just another image-conscious NFL player building his brand? Or was that the real Rice, both before and after the worst mistake of his life? If so, he needs to make that case so clearly it can’t be dismissed or diminished. If he’s changed, tell us how. If he hasn’t, tell us why. But Rice needs to put himself out there again, and pick up the pieces, one sliver at a time if necessary.

Before his fall, Rice was known as a player with both a winning personality and the passion to help and unite people. The Ravens say he had even done some charity work in recent years on behalf of Baltimore’s House of Ruth—a shelter for battered women—because of the domestic violence experiences his own mother endured. Ray and Janay had met with that same organization again after their domestic violence incident, and planned to start working on its behalf. But then the second video came to light, sparking a firestorm that raged for weeks, and not even a shelter for battered women wanted anything to do with the damaged goods that Rice represented.

One of the reasons Ravens leadership said they wanted to believe the worst-case scenario hadn’t occurred in that elevator was because Rice had built up six years worth of the benefit of the doubt, based on his personal conduct and a consistent approach to his community responsibility. Rice was a role model and seemed to revel in it. Imagine how much more powerful his example and his own unique story could be going forward? Even if he never plays another game, his path to redemption could inspire others on an entirely different level.

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Whether NFL re-instatement comes or not, Rice needs to start working his way back. Before any re-launching of his football career takes precedent, the much more difficult work of rehabilitating his reputation is the most pressing task. His message needs to be heard clearly and often, at women’s shelters and anywhere he can influence the choices of men who might be prone to inflict domestic violence. He must share the reality of his mistake in order to save them learning the same hard lessons.

If he puts the time and effort into that all-important work, Rice’s story of redemption can be about more than just restoring his name and taking his best possible shot at getting back on the field. Ultimately he has no control over whether his football career continues, but he has every say in the matter of his character going forward.

In September, deserved or not, Rice’s horrific actions earned him an indefinite NFL suspension that may or may not end soon. But either way, now it’s up to him to resolve that his damaged reputation won’t last forever.

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