The NFL Needs Ray Rice More Than Ray Rice Needs The NFL

Let’s be real. If the Ray Rice who punched his then fiancé while elevator security tapes were rolling was the 25-year-old Rice who averaged 4.7 yards per carry on his way to 1,364 yards, we wouldn’t be talking about a comeback tour. He’d be signed somewhere and we’d be contemplating which slot in the top ten he should occupy during our fantasy drafts.

But 28-year-old Rice who last stumbled to an embarrassing 3.1 yards per carry is sitting by himself in the cafeteria, and no one is even looking at him. That’s unfortunate because, as evidenced during an emotional interview with ESPN’s Jemele Hill, today’s Rice could be more valuable than the All-Pro version.

The NFL is full of smokescreens and Band-Aids. Despite sweeping press conferences and ambiguous policy changes that might suggest the contrary, no one seems to want to tackle its domestic violence issue or general violence in a direct manner. A year after being convicted on two counts of domestic violence overflowing with gruesome detail, Greg Hardy is prancing around Dallas with a violin contemplating whether he should fight the NFL’s already reduced four-game suspension. (The same suspension Tom Brady received for doing whatever it is the NFL is claiming today.) To commemorate last weekend’s Family Day, the Vikings chose to tweet out a picture of Adrian Peterson kissing one of his sons, who may or may not be the one whose testicles he beat with a stick.  These people sure live in a nervy fantasy world.

Then there’s the reality.

“Domestic violence is real. It happens every :12 seconds,” Rice said to Hill.

A statistic! Finally a real, critical stat that brings the severity of domestic violence to life. This type of stat has not been uttered by Roger Goodell at any point, or any of the myriad general managers and owners who keep embracing players stained with violent pasts. It certainly wasn’t flashed across the screen during last season’s vague “No More” PSAs that featured silent actors acting emotional.

It came from Rice. Maybe it’s for the best that Rice last averaged only 3.1 yards per carry because it extended his time as a free agent. Because this version of Rice is enlightened, remorseful, educated, and most importantly, he wants to help.

Imagine this Rice in an NFL locker room today. Imagine the private conversations he could have with young teammates, especially those with a tendency to straddle trouble.  Imagine watching Rice well up as he describes the suicidal thoughts he had upon the tape’s release. “I’m going to lose it all and it’s not worth living,” he recalled to Hill. Imagine the impact Rice could have.

The NFL is a bastion of second chances. If it weren’t, domestic violence crimes, DUIs and dabbling in Adderall, among a multitude of other violations, would warrant lifetime bans. But it’s really about what we do with those second chances. After experiencing the kind of life-pivoting pain that comes with hitting rock bottom, Rice appears rehabilitated. He’s developed a sense of purpose. He deserves a second chance.

But Rice’s aim at a second-chance shouldn’t really be measured by whether or not he deserves one, but rather the good he can do with it.