The Ray Rice domestic violence case is unfortunate on many levels. Clearly it affects the lives of Rice, his fiancée Janay Palmer and their young daughter more than anyone else.
The collateral damage for them is most costly.
Still, regardless of Rice’s guilt or innocence the former All-Pro’s Atlantic City transgressions amount to a nightmare for the Baltimore Ravens both on and off the field.
The Ravens gave Rice a huge contract in 2012 not just for his impressive statistical accomplishments but also for his leadership and the way he represented the organization in the community.
His ability to lead will be severely challenged.
To lead a player must command respect. Respect can be earned through productivity and professionalism. Productive players exude confidence and that captures the attention of teammates and invites leadership.
Rice hasn’t exuded confidence for quite some time, going back to the playoffs of 2012 when uncharacteristic fumbling became an issue. The swagger is gone for now and that makes it difficult to lead. Look around the league. How many players struggling on the field are leaders off it?
As for the professional side of the leadership equation, his behavior in Atlantic City at nearly 3 in the morning, even if the elevator episode is nothing more than intoxicated idiocy, isn’t exactly the cloth from which leaders are cut. And now, regardless of how this situation shakes out, it would be naïve to think that his anti-bullying campaign could be effective.
The court of public opinion isn’t exactly a temple of fairness.
So where does this leave the Ravens?
If found guilty or even if he’s exonerated yet more visual evidence surfaces that paints the league offices into the corner, a suspension is possible and that could force the team to look a little more closely at the RB position in the NFL Draft or mine the rosters of other teams in anticipation of a cap casualty.
More importantly this situation is a black eye for the entire organization.
The Ravens have been very mindful of character in players for years. They wanted to shed the thug reputation that clung to the team like an undesirable stench, ushered in by the off-the-field mishaps from the likes of Messrs. Lewis, Lewis, Lewis, McAlister, Fuller and Sams. They didn’t and don’t want to be viewed as the East Coast Oakland Raiders.
Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti wants a more polished reputation so that they can attract the devotion of fans outside of Maryland. They hope to transcend the boundaries of their fan base boxed in by those of the Eagles’ to the north, the Redskins’ to the south, the Steelers’ to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.
Carefully executed plans to increase the team’s marketability have been at least partially derailed by Rice. And for Rice, things are even worse.
All of his community centric efforts, the time and money he’s devoted, in one alleged careless action are suddenly rendered meaningless. Even if found not guilty, the scars will remain and the sincerity of his message will be questioned.
He’ll be mocked in all visiting stadiums, perhaps even challenged by activists against domestic violence. It will be a distraction for Rice and the team. Could you imagine him showing his muscle to fans on the road again?
Sometimes such circumstances can galvanize a team like the Ravens experienced in 2000 following the Ray Lewis murder charges. Other times it can fracture a team and all the king’s horses, and all the king’s men can’t help.
But time has a way of healing such things.
Clearly it would help Rice if he’s a productive player again and his messages off the field remain consistent and honorable. Then they may become believable again.
However this shakes out for the Ravens and/or Rice it is a reminder of how quickly things can change and how in these modern times with an information highway that travels at warp speeds, carefully crafted reputations can come crashing down in an instant.
Rebuilding them, not so much.
Fortunately for the Ravens the strength of their organization can help them to weather the imminent storm.
But it won’t be easy…