If defamed former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice could reverse the week that was he would certainly do it. From rising star in the NFL to outcast, the fallout from a video recording of Rice punching his now wife, Janay Rice, knocked the league out. Now, suspended indefinitely by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Rice’s return to the NFL may not happen anytime soon – if at all. The 27-year-old former Pro-Bowler is still young and spry enough to make a magnificent return to the gridiron but after being vilified over the last few months, it’s going to be tough from a public relations perspective for Rice to return. Or will it? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: NFL owners are going to steer clear of Rice for a while. A memo has already been disbursed throughout the NFL that any team looking to sign Rice will have to seek approval first, making his possible reinstatement a tricky one. The shelf life on running backs is already short anyway, and the more time Rice stays away to let tension die down, the older he gets. The league has a funny thing about running backs on the wrong side of 30, and Rice is already 27. He’ll more than likely sit out the remainder of the season while he turns 28 in January. And considering the dismal season he had last year and PR backlash that he now brings, is there really any reason for any team to sign him?
Green: A Super Bowl champion and three-time Pro Bowl running back can always find a home, and while this is definitely a dark moment for Rice and his camp, the NFL and its fans have forgiven players in the past. It was just a few years ago that Michael Vick was sitting in prison before he was out electrifying crowds as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Michael Irvin, Lawrence Taylor and other former and current legends have all seen the public turn on them for outlandish events before welcoming them back into open arms once time lapses. Rice will be no different. He’ll play the role as villain for a good while before he gradually eases his way back into the public’s affection. It’s happened time and time again. He’s still immensely talented, and there’s always an owner who will take a gamble on that.
Riley: As forgiving as I am, Rice’s biggest issue is that copies of that video will always remain, and neither the public nor the media will allow him to fully erase the image. The NFL is securing itself to be fully protected against domestic violence as penalties and strong sanctions were laid down heavy this week by Goodell. As a new era of the NFL is set to begin, the reappearance of Rice would only serve as a reminder of where the league once was and where it doesn’t want to return. And, considering that Goodell’s career may now be in jeopardy over this fallout, can you imagine the backlash he would receive if he’s somehow allowed to retain his position and allow Rice to return? But even if Goodell is forced to resign and a new commissioner arrives in his place, how open would that new face be to the thought of Rice’s returning? Rice’s tape goes a long way. What message does a team send to its female fans if they acquire the running back after all this?
Green: That horrific video is still too fresh for anyone to take a chance on Rice right now. But, as time passes and he continues to show remorse and a genuine effort toward becoming a better man, I am sure he will be granted a second chance. Ray made his mistakes that night, and he’s certainly paying for them right now. He wasn’t punished correctly the first time around, but that’s not his fault. Rice is at fault for putting his hands on his wife. He, however, is not at fault for dropping the ball on his own punishment; that’s the NFL’s mistake. It’s also the New Jersey police’s fault. They need to answer and be penalized for being so dismissive of Rice’s actions that night.