Ray Rice, NFL & Ravens: When is Your Reputation Beyond Management?

I’ve done my share of my share of crisis communications and reputation management, but the Ray Rice video — and the public reaction to it — makes me wonder if some reputations are beyond repair. Ray Rice’s career and reputation may already be ruined, but this story’s not over, and the NFL and Baltimore Ravens will be under scrutiny in the following days.

Back in May, when Rice spoke publicly about his alleged abuse of his then-fiancee, he said of his 2-year-old daughter, “One day she’s going to know the power of Google. Me having to explain that to her, what happened that night, that’s something I have to live with the rest of my life.” Well, with the release of the new video footage today, those Google searches just got a lot worse.

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March, the Ravens, eager to hold on to their Pro Bowl running back, brushed it off as a private incident. Coach John Harbaugh called Rice “a person of character,” saying “When you drink too much in public, those kind of things happen.” [Watch the elevator video and read that again: “…those kinds of things happen.”]

General Manager Ozzie Newsome added, “We respect the efforts Ray has made to become the best partner and father he can be. That night was not typical of the Ray Rice we know and respect.” The team even took to Twitter to publicize the fact that Rice’s fiance addressed her own role in the dispute:

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That tweet was removed today, a few hours after the video was released by TMZ Sports. In a press conference tonight, Harbaugh said that he and other Ravens officials had seen the video this morning for the first time. The NFL also stated it had not seen the video. That raises a few questions:

1. If the NFL conducted a thorough investigation, how could they have been unable to obtain the video? This happened in a casino, where there is no shortage of cameras. If they wanted to know what happened in the elevator, they would have insisted on seeing the video, and clearly it was available. But the NFL said today: “We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator. That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today.”

2. If the NFL and Ravens are being truthful, and they saw the video for the first time today, what does the video change? They knew that when Rice and his fiance entered the elevator, she was conscious. When he dragged her out of the elevator, she was not. Hmmm. I wonder what happened?

Call me a cynic, but here’s what really changed — the public saw a graphic video and now the NFL and Ravens can no longer defend their efforts to explain this incident away. The message to NFL players? If you beat up your wife or girlfriend, don’t get caught on tape.

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