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This week, after I wrote a column panning Greg Hardy’s interview with ESPN’s Adam Schefter, I appeared on several radio shows and our own SI Now. Questions were varied but one topic was commonplace: Ray Rice. Did Hardy’s lack of remorse soften feelings toward Rice, who was incredibly remorseful and has lived his apology for the last two years? And, should Rice be given a second chance to play in the NFL? Sharing my feelings on Rice (in summary: he has a lot to offer locker rooms beyond yards per carry) sparked a derivative curiosity. I really wanted to grasp Rice’s current mindset, learn about his day-to-day life and see if a second chance was still one of his objectives. After reaching out to his representatives, I chatted with Rice and members of his team Saturday.
“My window for football is small but my opportunity for this message is going to be for a lifetime.”
Ray Rice undergoes a regimented five-days-a-week schedule at a gym in Stamford, Conn., with a dual-pronged purpose. He’s training to be a trainer, and is currently working with a few draft prospects, helping them to pivot from the short-term goals of combine training to career-longevity NFL training. In an NFL career that up to this point has lasted six seasons, all with Baltimore, Rice suffered exactly one major injury—a hip flexor strain he played with through the entirety of the 2013–2014 season. Rice’s last regular season NFL game was on Dec. 29th, 2013 and whether he partakes in another in 2016, or ever, is still very much in doubt. Yet he’s working out this April the same way he has every April since he was drafted in 2008: by elevating his routine to be ready for another grueling training camp around the corner.
Rice knows he still carries a stigma, one that emanated from TMZ footage, released in February 2014, that showed Rice dragging his then-fiancé and now-wife Janay out of an Atlantic City elevator. That stigma was famously cemented when a second video showing Rice punch Janay in the same elevator was released in September 2014. He reiterates it was a one-time incident, though he understands its significance for being horrific and life changing.
When not at the gym or hanging out with his family—Janay, his wife of two years who is currently pregnant with their second child, a boy due in September, and their daughter Rayven—Rice is spreading his message. He speaks passionately, and regularly, about the importance of young boys becoming respectable men, how you treat a woman, what domestic violence looks like, and how domestic violence affects children, all lessons he’s absorbed over the past two years.
“Right now I’m 29, but I’m going to be 59, 69, however long I’m going to live, repeating the same message and helping,” Rice said. “My window for football is small but my opportunity for this message is going to be for a lifetime.”
Two-plus years after the fateful incident, Rice is now a fixture at New Rochelle High School in New York, his alma mater, and spends time with students at his college alma mater, Rutgers. Rice also gives speeches to a number of community organizations. Some, like a recent speech to underprivileged kids in Elizabeth, N.J., in which he encouraged them to find a mentor, have garnered publicity. Most have not, and that’s by design. Rice prefers to keep his speeches personal and low key.
Even the rookies he’s currently training get a heavy dose of life lessons to go along with their burpees and kettleball work. For an agent looking to get a client fully indoctrinated into the NFL zeitgeist, that’s likely part of Rice’s appeal.
Rice also coached the draft-eligible rookies in this past January’s NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, his closest foray back into the NFL to date. But while he moonlights as a coach and trainer and has transformed himself into a mentor, there still remains a player with unfinished business.
“The only reason why I am fighting to get back is because I believe when you start something you finish it. I have a lot of finishing to do,” Rice said. “I have to go back to college and finish my degree. My wife has a degree. She’s a finisher. I have to give the same message to my kids.”
In 2014, I stood alongside the majority, thrilled to see Rice blacklisted from the NFL. But after observing his unwavering commitment to using his experience for good, and now speaking with him, my belief that Rice deserves a second chance has fully been cemented.
Rice certainly put himself in this position, and no one understands that as much as he does, but this is no monster. He’s a decent human who made a mistake that he’s lived with every day since. Most would have crumbled under the mountain of puns, stigmas and severe hatred. But Rice got wiser. He opened his mind—learning the intricacies of domestic violence, facing survivors, understanding the vast demographics, and now preaching what he’s learned to anyone who will listen.
Think about the characters allowed to toil in NFL locker rooms since the Rice incident: Hardy, Johnny Manziel, Junior Galette and Aldon Smith to name just a few. How would Rice, who has consistently shown remorse and now seeks to help people, not be a valuable member of any locker room in a mentor/player role? The “new” NFL has become pretty adept at handling domestic violence cases after they occur, namely by instituting a more stringent disciplinary policy. But Rice could be useful in a preventative way, which is much, much more important.
As for Rice’s value on the field, well, he’s a 29-year old running back who at last glance was ending a season marred by injury. Perhaps after two years removed, with fresh legs and a stringent workout plan, he could be the NFL's latest running back to experience a revival.
There tends to be an algorithm when it comes to NFL players, a quotient measuring talent vs. trouble. But in some cases it should also measure trajectories and the lessons learned from them. When you consider Rice’s, he at least deserves a training camp invite.