By Maria Wiering
UPDATED 10 a.m. Sept. 9, 2014: “Not every day is going to be easy – that’s just how life is – but if you can genuinely look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I did the best I could that day,’ then you’re on the road to success.”
Those were Ray Rice’s words to the men of Christopher Place Employment Academy, whom he visited after serving lunch at Our Daily Bread in 2012.
The Baltimore Ravens running back made quite an impression that day on those he met at the Catholic Charities programs as they vied for photos and a few words with a man hailed as one of the best running backs in the NFL. One Christopher Place man, draped in a Ravens flag, called Rice “so genuinely nice.”
Now, after video footage was leaked Sept. 8 showing Rice punching out his then fiancée (and now wife), Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City hotel elevator in February, Ravens fans are reeling.
“It’s shocking,” said Father John “Jack” Ward, pastor of Prince of Peace in Edgewood and an avid Ravens fan. “It’s embarrassing. It’s tragic that this type of behavior would take place with anybody, whether a football player or anybody else. It’s intolerable. …There’s no excuse for it.”
He added: “I’m a football fan, but I’m not a fan of Ray Rice.”
He used to be a Rice fan, he said, but not after abuse allegations surfaced. People have a right to expect good behavior from people in the public eye, he said. Rice’s behavior reminds people – some of whom put Rice on a pedestal – that “he’s human, too,” he said.
“But just because somebody is human, it does not mean we can excuse the behavior that really harms another person,” Father Ward said.
Rice was suspended for two games this season, after a hotel surveillance video showed him dragging Palmer from the elevator. The elevator surveillance confirmed that Rice knocked her unconscious.
The video compelled the Ravens to terminate Rice’s contract and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to indefinitely suspended Rice Sept. 8.
Sister Mary Alexis Fisher, superior of the Baltimore-based Oblate Sisters of Providence, said she and the sisters “are disheartened that this happened.”
A Ravens fan, Sister Mary Alexis was among six sisters who visited a Ravens practice last year. In an interview with the team’s staff writer, she then called Ray Rice a “good man.”
She said Sept. 8 that she and the sisters are praying for Rice, his wife, family, “all who are involved” and Ravens fans.
Father Ward said the situation may increase public awareness of domestic abuse, “which is more prevalent than we realize.”
He said he has preached on domestic abuse in the past and will do so again. He encourages people who inflict or receive abuse to reach out for help.
“The key is when somebody realizes they have this kind of problem, to do something about it and get the help they need,” he said.
Sharon Love, a parishioner of St. Joseph, Cockeysville, said in a statement that when her daughter, 22-year-old Yeardley Love, was killed by her ex-boyfriend in 2010, “I didn’t realized until that day how devastatingly common relationship violence is.”
Yeardley was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend in her apartment at the University of Virginia. She was a 2006 graduate of Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson. Her assailant, George Hugely V of Chevy Chase, was found guilty of second degree murder and grand larceny in 2012.
“The video of Ray Rice striking his fiancée is unbearable to watch and opens up a flood of emotions for me,” said Sharon, who has since founded the One Love Foundation to bring awareness to relationship violence. ”Relationship violence is not just about poor decisions made in the moment – in most cases, it is deeper and requires far more attention than a few anger management sessions. We as a community need to stand up and take this issue out of its dark corner if we are ever to see meaningful change.”
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown said in a statement that the Ravens made the right decision.
“No family is immune from the horror of domestic violence and we should never turn a blind eye – regardless of whether the abuser is famous or lives across the street,” said Brown, a Catholic from Prince George’s County who is running for governor. “Our families and communities will be stronger when all of our wives, mothers, daughters and friends can live free from the fear of domestic violence, that’s why we must continue working to implement serious consequences for abusers while strengthening support for victims and survivors.”
The Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Family Peace Action Team has encouraged clergy and pastoral leaders to observe Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October by preaching on the topic and inserting helplines in parish bathrooms, as well as bulletins and newsletters. Oct. 25-26 is Maryland’s statewide interfaith domestic violence awareness weekend.