Owner pins report on Ray Rice camp

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti responded Monday to an ESPN investigative report into the team's handling of Ray Rice's domestic abuse case, saying that a significant amount of the information in the story was "manufactured" from accounts provided by the running back's inner circle.

Bisciotti addressed the ESPN "Outside the Lines" report during a 45-minute news conference, saying he believes that Rice's camp is attempting to "build a case for reinstatement."

"The majority of the sources [from the report] are people that work for Ray," Bisciotti said. "Almost everything in there is anonymous, but it's clear from the subject matter that it's Ray's attorney, it's Ray's agent, it's Ray's friends.

"I'm not mad at those guys for writing the article," Bisciotti also said. He added he wished that ESPN had said who it interviewed for the story, claiming it was mostly people who were sympathetic to Rice's potential reinstatement.

ESPN OTL reporter Don Van Natta, appearing on the network after Bisciotti's news conference, said that "Outside the Lines" interviewed more than 20 sources over 11 days -- team officials, current and former league officials, NFL Players Association representatives and associates, advisers and friends of Rice.

"Unfortunately, it's an assumption [Bisciotti] is making. ... It's an oversimplification of the work we put into this story," Van Natta said.

"We stand by our reporting," an ESPN spokesperson said Monday.

"Outside the Lines" reported Friday that Bisciotti, Ravens president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome tried to persuade NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to be lenient with Rice following the former Raven's February arrest.

The Ravens released Rice on Sept. 8 after TMZ Sports released a video of the running back hitting his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City hotel casino elevator, knocking her unconscious. The NFL suspended Rice indefinitely shortly after he was released by the team.

According to the OTL report, Ravens coach John Harbaugh urged team officials to cut Rice immediately after a first TMZ video, which showed Rice dragging Palmer out of the elevator, was released in February. The report also indicated Harbaugh went to Newsome in March and asked him to release the three Ravens, including Rice, who were arrested in the offseason.

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 he 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.''

National Organization for Women president Terry O'Neill, in a statement in response to Bisciotti's news conference, reiterated her displeasure over how the Ravens and the league have handled the Rice investigation and other domestic-violence cases in the past.

"Steve Bisciotti's press conference today is just another attempt at damage control, but it won't work," the statement read. "The NFL's violence against women problem can't be 'handled' or 'managed' -- it needs to be repaired.

"Going forward, the NFL and its teams need to stop treating this issue as a public relations problem and do the hard work, internal reforms and change in behavior that will restore the public's confidence in what once was our most popular sport. Today Mr. Bisciotti tried, in a profoundly clumsy way, to pretend the ship is not sinking, when he should have been helping to set the NFL back on the right course."

Bisciotti repeated Monday that the team's biggest mistake was not obtaining the video of what happened inside the elevator.

"There's no excuse for me to not have [demanded] that video except I wasn't concerned or interested enough to get it," Bisciotti said. "It never crossed my mind. I'm deeply sorry for that."

Minutes before the news conference, the Ravens issued a lengthy rebuttal to the OTL report. Included in the Ravens' statement:

Harbaugh said he did not suggest releasing Rice after seeing the first videotape, as OTL said he had urged his bosses. "I did not recommend cutting Ray Rice from the team after seeing the first videotape," Harbaugh said in the statement. Newsome, in the statement, said: "Neither John nor anyone else ever recommended cutting Ray Rice before we saw the second videotape on September 8."

The Ravens' director of security denied that he received an account of the incident "within hours" of it occurring. In the statement, he said that within "a couple of days," he asked the casino and the Atlantic City police for a copy of the videotape and was turned down. He said that, on Feb. 25, a police department official offered to view the tape and "describe what he saw." He said the official described both Rice and Palmer as intoxicated, but that "the officer could not tell from the video whether Ray slapped or punched her, but Ray told me very clearly that he did not punch her."

Newsome said that he and Rice talked and that Rice told him he hit Palmer, but that they did not "discuss details beyond that."

"I immediately focused on Ray taking responsibility and making amends," 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."

Bisciotti and Cass denied that they lobbied either the judicial system in New Jersey or Goodell to go easy on Rice. "That statement is not true," Cass said.

The team denied it knew in advance that Rice would be suspended.

Bisciotti said he exchanged text messages with Rice after he was released, and released a transcript.

"I did have an exchange of text messages with Ray, which he initiated," Bisciotti said in the statement. "I felt awful about what had happened. 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. Here are the texts, not as told to someone and then misquoted in the article, but verbatim."

In a Sept. 8 exchange of text messages, according to the team statement, Rice said he was thankful for what Bisciotti had done for him. Bisciotti said that he responded: "I'm sorry we had to do this. I still love you and believe that you will be a great husband and father If you ever need to talk just call."

A day later, on Sept. 9, Bisciotti texted Rice, saying: "I just spent two hours talking to Ozzie. It was all about you. We love you and we will always figure out a way to keep you in our lives. When you are done with football I will hire you to help me raise Great young men. I still love you!!!"

Rice: "I know it's a rough time for all of us I love all of you and that will never change for life!"

Bisciotti: "I will help you make it a great life indeed. I give you my WORD"

Rice: "That means the world to me and my family we greatly appreciate you and thank you."

Asked Monday to respond, Bisciotti said: "I have no reaction to my own texts."

Bisciotti said he 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.''

Ravens sponsor Under Armour released a statement in the wake of Bisciotti's comments. It read, in part: "We value our relationship with the Ravens and ... believe they will work through this and find ways to have a positive societal impact in efforts to stem domestic violence."

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN's Darren Rovell is included in this report.

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