Saturday, February 28, 2015

Why Ray Rice Contemplating Suicide is No Joke...

The first video we saw was bad enough. The grainy surveillance video showed NFL star running back Ray Rice months earlier dragging his then-fiance Janay unconscious out of an elevator after some sort of altercation. In a Kobe-esque press conference, Janay sat next to her man holding his hand supporting him as he apologized for his actions. Nevermind he never actually apologized to her. The NFL handed down a two-game suspension and that was that... just another blip on the criminal arrest saga that has come to define the NFL offseason.

Then the second video was released - the video from inside the elevator that showed Ray upper-cutting Janay and knocking her out cold. I texted my producer at The Broadcast the morning after its release and said we had to talk about it during table talk - this video would change everything. For the first time, the NFL was on the defense and losing the PR battle, badly. The only person having the bigger nightmare than the NFL was Ray Rice. As he describes it, he became the most hated man in America, and he was right. He was the poster child for domestic abusers even though there had been plenty of candidates for the job before him... you know, the Ray Carruths of the NFL. I mean hell... Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher killed his three-month-old daughter's mother and then turned the gun on himself back in 2012. Even that incident wasn't enough for the NFL to change how it approached players' off-the-field issues with domestic violence. It was Ray Rice and that now infamous knockout blow that did. 

So it's no surprise to me that in an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Rice admitted to contemplating suicide as a result of becoming the most hated man in America. In the interview, he said, "Honestly, I almost felt like at one point that it wasn't worth living. I see why people commit suicide." While some on social media questioned his sincerity (i.e. maybe Rice was continuing to spin the PR wheel; maybe he only regretted losing his millions), I was immediately troubled by his comments. You see, when this whole thing happened a year ago, my first thought was how Rice and his now wife were thrust into early NFL retirement - his ties to his team were cut; his income was gone; endorsement deals discontinued; role model status severed; his identity, no longer. There was an immediate feeling of empathy... in ways, I knew what he and Janay were probably feeling watching his former teammates out on the gridiron every Sunday while he was sitting on the couch. I hoped she had good people around her to support her. I bet there was a loss of a sense of purpose. It probably felt like someone died. Depression had probably set in. Hopelessness. The savings account dwindling. Life after (or in between) football is tough... and until you've experienced it, it is virtually impossible to know what it feels like. 

I'm not excusing Rice's behavior - I've been one of his harshest critics. And I'm certainly not comparing our situation to his - I'm married to the sweetest, gentlest, nonviolent giant I know. He wasn't cut... his contract ran out and after literally putting his life on the line over the course of a 10-year pro-ball career, no one wanted him anymore. So in some ways, I do feel like I can relate to some of what Ray (and I'm sure Janay) experienced over this last year.  It's hard. Really hard. So hard that former players like Junior Seau are literally killing themselves over it. Many are now beginning to contemplate and understand the depression former players experience - ESPN writer Jim Trotter just wrote about it in a wonderful piece published just this week. So while we can question Rice's sincerity and whether or not he brought all this on himself, I, for one, and deeply troubled about his suicidal thoughts. I don't want to hear about one more current/former NFL player contemplating/committing suicide...

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Coincidentally, today is the last day of our NFL health insurance coverage. Former vested players get 5 years of health insurance after their last credited season and 18 months of COBRA eligibility and ours expires at the end of the day. I knew the day was coming but now that it's here, it is a reminder that this chapter in our lives is closed and that life goes on after the NFL. But it's tough. And there are struggles. I hope we're all paying attention to the toll this league is taking on these players and their families. And that folks can find a way to show a little compassion... even for the most hated guy in the world... 

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