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Ray Rice's image could be tarnished by assault charge

Off the field, Ray Rice is among the Baltimore Ravens' most visible players, from the running back's community outreach to his anti-bullying activities to a myriad of profitable endorsements. But an alleged domestic dispute this weekend between Rice and his fiancee at an Atlantic City, N.J., casino could jeopardize much of that and tarnish the image that he has built during his six years in Baltimore.

A charge that Rice struck Janay Palmer early Saturday morning will affect his many outside endeavors, said Howe Burch, a top executive with Baltimore-based TBC Advertising.

"It doesn't look good for him," Burch said. "I think it clearly undermines the image he has crafted with the Ravens as one who gives back to the community. It's clearly a blemish on him and something he'll have to overcome."

The Ravens on Monday afternoon were still gathering details about the incident. General manager Ozzie Newsome said at a noon news conference that neither he nor head coach John Harbaugh had yet spoken to Rice.

"When I left my office 20 minutes ago ... Ray Rice was still a big part of what we plan to do in 2014," Newsome said at the conference, which was called to announce linebacker Terrell Suggs' contract extension.

Both Rice, 27, and Palmer, 26, were charged with simple assault-domestic violence after allegedly striking each other with their hands at the Revel Casino, where surveillance cameras filmed the incident around 3 a.m. No injuries were reported.

That scene runs counter to Rice's lobbying against bullying. In 2012, the three-time Pro Bowler hosted anti-bullying rallies at Howard High and Merriweather Post Pavilion, in Columbia, following the death of a 15-year-old Howard County girl driven to suicide by cyber-bullying. Last year, Rice took his "Ray of Hope" campaign to Towson University, where he stood beside Maryland first lady Katie O'Malley to deliver his message to several thousand attendees.

That and his performance on the field have made Rice a role model to young fans.

"Because he's a role model and kids look up to him, this ... might be seen as an appropriate means of conflict resolution for adolescent boys who have not matured to the point where they can cope in an argumentative situation without violence," Dr. Inga James, vice president of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, said of the allegations.

"It's a sad incident all the way around."

That someone of Rice's stature may have been involved isn't surprising, said Michaele Cohen, executive director of the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.

"Domestic violence can affect anybody," she said, adding that "these folks need counseling to address what's going on in their relationship. And if the Ravens encourage them to get help, it would send a message to men and boys that this behavior is not acceptable."

In his 13 years with the Ravens, former kicker Matt Stover saw the club deal with a number of players' legal problems.

"If this was a marital thing or relationship issue with Ray Rice, it was unfortunate it happened and I'm sure the team will absolutely handle it with the utmost respect for Ray and the organization," Stover said. "If I'm (owner) Steve (Bisciotti) or Ozzie, you shake your head and you say, 'I wonder what happened,' and then you say, 'Let's all get together.' As human beings, we all have our issues; we all have things. Sometimes they come to public light.

"Sometimes the player tends to find himself in a situation where it makes him very vulnerable with the organization. I will say this: The team will back him and the locker room will handle itself. It's a tight-knit group of guys, and that starts at the top."

Jamal Lewis, a former Ravens All-Pro running back who has dealt with legal issues of his own, said it's hard for the public to understand that players aren't invincible off the field.

"One of the things that we forget about is that these guys are human," Lewis said. "Hopefully, with the Ravens behind him, (Rice) will be fine."

Besides his charitable work, Rice is one of the Ravens' most active pitchmen. He has done endorsement for M&T Bank, Gillette, Sheets energy strips, BodyArmor SuperDrink and Carbiz.

Evan Berney, owner of Carbiz, said that at this time nothing has changed regarding his company's relationship with Rice.

"It's impossible for me to know what happened at this time," said Berney, whose business sells used cars. "I know (Rice), and he's a really great individual and it would be hard for me to think it all wasn't just a misunderstanding."

Officials of other companies whose products Rice endorses did not respond to requests for comment.

Rice is scheduled to appear at the Maryland SPCA's March for the Animals Kickoff Party on Friday in Baltimore. Tami Gosheff, spokeswoman for the organization, said that the event will go on, though she was unsure if Rice will still attend.

The Ravens' second-round draft pick in 2008, Rice has rushed for 6,180 yards and scored 43 touchdowns. He signed a five-year, $35-million contract prior to the 2013 season in which his numbers plummeted (660 yards and four TDs).

Will his endorsements now follow suit?

"It depends on the severity of the episode," Burch said. "We need to wait and see what the real story is. But even if there is some small kernel of truth that he assaulted her, it will take a lot of time to repair his image.

"I hate to say it, but a strong performance on the field cures a lot of ills. Look at (former Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis. Companies weren't interested in associating themselves with him in the short term (after Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in a murder case in 2000). But after a period of time he was able to achieve marketing success."

Rice could bounce back, but it will be tough, Burch predicted:

"I don't think Ray Rice is in the same echelon as Ray Lewis, the greatest linebacker of all time. Rice will never achieve that kind of iconic status in football."

(Matt Vensel and Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.)

(c)2014 The Baltimore Sun

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Distributed by MCT Information Services


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