OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti refuted a report suggesting he and other team officials tried to persuade the NFL to be lenient on Ray Rice after the running back was arrested in February for knocking out his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City elevator.
Bisciotti, who rarely met with the media before the Rice saga, said he felt it necessary to respond to an ESPN story last week that described he, President Dick Cass and General Manager Ozzie Newsome pushing Commissioner Roger Goodell for leniency for Rice.
“Their accusations didn’t jibe with what we know is fact,” said Bisciotti, who, sitting in a raised leather chair square in the middle of a raised stage at his team’s training facility, also denied that he contacted the league on Rice’s behalf.
“I don’t think the league would take too kindly to us badgering them,” Bisciotti said. “I didn’t really care. If it was going to be a precedent-setting (suspension of) four or six games, I would have told Ray not to appeal it.
“I expected four of six games and I was surprised as everybody else that it was two.”
The two games were Rice’s original suspension by the league — the Ravens took no action at the time — for punching Janay Palmer in a casino on Feb. 15.
But after a video surfaced on Sept. 8 showing the violent attack, Rice was released by the team and suspended indefinitely by the league. He has appealed his suspension.
Bisciotti acknowledged that the backlash over the handling of the domestic violence case is by far the biggest crisis he’s faced since taking over the team 14 years ago, but defended the integrity of his organization.
“When your integrity is questioned, it’s pretty humbling,” Bisciotti said. “Last week it was our competence being questioned. Now it’s our integrity.”
The 54-year-old owner criticized the ESPN report for being biased, saying of the anonymous sources quoted in the piece: “It’s clear from the subject matter that it’s Ray’s attorney, it’s Ray’s agent and it’s Ray’s friends. They are building a case for reinstatement.”
The report was the latest development in the saga that has Bisciotti and his organization on its heels.
“As I stated in our letter to you on September 9, we did not do all we should have done, and no amount of explanation can remedy that. But there has been no misdirection or misinformation by the Ravens,” Bisciotti said in a 15-point statement to the fans released before the news conference.
ESPN also reported that Darren Sanders, the team’s Director of Security, was given a detailed description of what occurred in the elevator within hours of Rice’s arrest in February.
In the team statement, Sanders said it was more than a week after the incident before an officer described the grainy tape. Sanders did not say he ever received a copy of the video, or ever saw it before it became public.
“The officer could not tell from the video whether Ray slapped her or punched her,” Sanders said. Critics say that shouldn’t matter; that the Ravens had enough evidence.
Rice was arrested on assault charges, and a police summons stated that Rice had struck Palmer with his hand, rendering her unconscious.
Rice has been accepted into New Jersey’s pre-trial intervention program, which enabled him to avoid jail time and could result in having the charge expunged from his record after he meets the requirements.
ESPN reported that that Bisciotti sent a text message to Rice offering him a job after the was done with football, and that Rice told friends he was “incredibly insulted” in that it appeared to be an offer of hush money.
In the statement, Bisciotti said, “I believed he was, at heart, a good person, that he was capable of redemption, and I wanted to tell him I would be supportive of him.”
Newsome reiterated in the team’s statement that Rice had been honest with him about what happened.
“When I met with Ray to discuss the incident, I asked him one question: “Did you hit her?” He responded: “Yes,” Newsome said. “I later said Ray didn’t lie to me because he told me he hit her, and that is what the video later showed – although the video was much more violent than what I had pictured.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh denied he asked that Rice be released after the first videotape surfaced, as the report suggested. “I did not recommend cutting Ray Rice from the team after seeing the first videotape,” the coach said in the release.
Added Newsome: “Neither John nor anyone else ever recommended cutting Ray Rice before we saw the second videotape on September 8.”
Still, there remain questions as to whether the NFL had access to the video, and the ESPN report said Cass never asked for a copy of the video.
Bisciotti said, “That’s where we failed. … I lacked a whole lot of interest and had zero desire to see that tape. If I had, I might have said I’m not doing a thing until we see it.”
The Associated Press has reported the video was sent to NFL offices in April, and the league subsequently hired former FBI director Robert Mueller to look into how the NFL sought and handled evidence in the domestic violence case.
Bisciotti hopes the Ravens and the NFL learn from their mistakes.
“The question is, What are we going to do next year as a team, and what is the league going to do next year or the next time this happens?” he said. “I would lose faith in the league if this happened next year and their response is unsatisfactory. If I’m asking people to give me another shot, then I certainly would ask you to give the league office another shot.”
(DAVID GINSBURG, AP Sports Writer)