Ray Rice Will Never Play in NFL Again, but Accountability Shouldn't Stop There

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Ray Rice Will Never Play in NFL Again, but Accountability Shouldn't Stop There
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Everything was closing in on Ray Rice, and the Ravens let him go. They had to. They had no choice.

By midday, one Ravens player said that many on the team had seen the latest video, the one depicting what happened between Rice and his then-fiancee Janay Palmer inside the elevator in February.  What was becoming clear was not only the outrage from the attack's viciousness—but also that Rice had misled them.

According to the player, Rice told teammates that he had no choice but to defend himself that day in the elevator. Then the video emerged, via TMZ—and told a different story.

To me, that was the beginning of the Ravens' decision to let him go.

Of all the things that the NFL, Commissioner Roger Goodell, the Ravens and the court system got wrong, the Ravens at least got this right.

Goodell followed suit, doing now what he should have done then:

The reaction from both team and league is late, and it hardly makes up for the missteps that have been taken since TMZ released the original video showing the aftermath of the elevator incident.

One tweet from the official Ravens Twitter account 108 days ago sums it up. It came after the video had emerged of Rice dragging his then-fiancee unconscious out of an elevator, like she was a sack of groceries. The story had already exploded.

The Ravens tweeted this (since deleted):

Do you see what the Ravens did there? They slyly, disgustingly and eerily placed the blame on the victim. They aided and abetted. Their initial reaction was to care more about Rice and his reputation than what happened in that elevator.

That tweet takes on a new meaning now, in light of the new video. 

In many ways, this video—and Goodell's limp reaction to the situation, from the start—has the potential to be one of the great, transformative moments in league history, and easily Goodell's greatest regret. It could end up being an even greater regret than when Pete Rozelle decided the games should go on following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The new video, coming after Goodell's measly two-game suspension of Rice, has caused the kind of outrage that seeps outside of the sport and even forces people and players who love football to reconsider that adoration.

LeCharles Bentley, a former NFL player and Pro Bowler whom I respect immensely, strengthened that respect with this tweet.

There was a tweet from former player Scott Fujita, another hero of mine, who said, "This piece of s--t needs to be out of the league. Period."

Denver Broncos co-captain Terrance Knighton tweeted:

There is a great deal of blame to go around on this. The court system that allowed Rice to escape practically free of punishment. Goodell, who gave too light a suspension. The horrendous Ravens fans who cheered Rice when he returned to the field.

But the greatest culprit is the Ravens organization that defended him with tweets like that one, playing into the insidiousness of domestic violence by blaming the victim. Then they held that sham of a press conference, with coach John Harbaugh dismissing the light suspension as "not a big deal" and calling Rice "a heckuva guy."

Joe Mahoney/Associated Press

Now comes the accountability phase. The NFL's indefinite suspension is the right move, but Rice wasn't going to be signed anyway.

After I spoke to three general managers, it seems the feeling around football is that no team will ever touch Rice should the league's suspension be lifted sooner than later. Not a one.

"He's radioactive," one general manager said.

And I think he's radioactive forever. I know memories are short in sports, but this will be different because of the video.

Rice is on an island. He's all but banished. Not officially, not yet. But even if the NFL doesn't punish Rice further, it's likely he will never play football again. Because that video will be an anchor to Rice forever, as it should be, and teams will be terrified to sign him.

But Rice isn't the only one who should be held accountable. This was a mass fail. Goodell failed, the courts failed, many people failed. Yet to me, the Ravens were the biggest culprits.

Nick Wass/Associated Press

There need to be mass firings inside the Ravens organization. It's impossible to imagine them handling this any worse. The team had to know what was on the video, if it didn't see the actual video, and still decided to back him—publicly, vociferously, without shame.

Someone needs to be held accountable for that. Many someones. Like I said, mass firings.

So now, one of the worst episodes in NFL history—and it is—is over, but the stain remains. Now, in the aftermath, there is just one word that applies.

Accountability.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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