Janay Rice says she is aware that she and her husband, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, have become a flashpoint for domestic violence discussions nationwide. But she says it's "hard to accept being called a 'victim'" and "never in my life have I seen abuse, nor have I seen any woman in my family physically abused."
In a first-person story for ESPN, as told to Jemele Hill, Janay Rice described what happened the night Rice hit her inside an elevator at Revel Casino, knocking her unconscious. She explained her views on their arrest and events that followed involving their family, the Ravens' decision to terminate Rice's contract and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's eventual decision to indefinitely suspend him.
"I know there are so many different opinions out there about me -- that I'm weak, that I'm making excuses and covering up abuse -- and that some people question my motives for staying with Ray ... " she wrote, adding, "we know our incident led to very important discussions to hashtags of 'why I stayed' and 'why I left.' If it took our situation becoming headline news to show domestic violence is happening in this country, that's a positive."
Janay Rice said she has seen the first video released of what happened outside the elevator but has not seen the second video from inside the elevator -- and that she will not watch it. She remembers "bickering" with Rice at a restaurant but said she can't recall over what. She remembers they were still arguing outside the elevator, and said she reached for Rice's phone and that's when he spit at her and she slapped him.
"We got into the elevator and what happened inside is still foggy to me. The only thing I know -- and I can't even say I 'remember' because I only know from what Ray has told me -- is that I slapped him again and then he hit me. I remember nothing else from inside the elevator."
The video from inside the elevator shows an altercation between the two. Janay steps forward and Rice hits her with his left hand.
"The next thing I do recall is being in the casino lobby, surrounded by cops," Janay wrote. She added: "I said to one officer, 'That's not us. What do you mean?' There were no marks on my face or body, and I felt perfectly fine. I was in complete shock."
She said Rice first told her mother what had happened. She said her mother later asked her privately whether she had experienced physical violence with him on a regular basis.
"I understood why she asked, but I was livid -- probably because I was embarrassed," Janay wrote. "She told me she was not going to allow me to be in a situation like this. She said she wasn't going to tolerate that from either one of us, and that I needed to make a decision about whether I was able to move past it."
Janay wrote that she met Ray Rice as a teenager and moved to Baltimore after he was drafted. She said the couple decided last October to seek counseling for issues in their relationship. They were married March 28 -- the day after Rice was indicted on a charge of third-degree aggravated assault in connection with the Feb. 15 altercation in the elevator.
In May, Rice pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault charges and was accepted into a first-time offenders program that could clear the charges after a year. The Ravens held a news conference, at which Rice apologized and said he had "failed miserably."
Janay said the Ravens told them they should hold the news conference. She said she thought it would be good for people to see Rice "taking ownership" for what he did.
"When it was my turn to speak, I said I regretted my role in the incident," she wrote. "I know some people disagreed with me publicly apologizing. I'm not saying that what Ray did wasn't wrong. He and I both know it was wrong. It's been made clear to him that it was wrong. But at the same time, who am I to put my hands on somebody? I had already apologized to Ray, and I felt that I should take responsibility for what I did. Even though this followed the Ravens' suggested script, I owned my words."
Goodell met with the couple June 16, after which the commissioner suspended Rice for two games. During that meeting, Janay said, she was asked one question by an NFL executive: How did she feel about everything? She said she broke down in tears and could hardly speak. "I just told him that I was ready for this to be over," she said. She said the NFL executives told them they would try to "move the process along" so Rice would soon learn of his suspension.
"We felt like a weight had been lifted," Janay said. "Mr. Goodell seemed to be a really reasonable and caring guy and wanted to make sure other people would learn from our mistake."
She said she wasn't surprised Rice was suspended for two games. "It was somewhat consistent with how he disciplined other players," she wrote.
"I don't know what else people wanted. I guess they thought Ray deserved to be suspended for more games because of the shocking visual. In his six years in the NFL, Ray had never been in the media for anything negative. He was known for his success on the field, and works in the community."
On Sept. 8, the second video from inside the elevator showed up on TMZ.com. Later that day, the Ravens released Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. Rice appealed his indefinite suspension. A hearing on the appeal was held Nov. 5 and 6. Former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones heard the appeal.
On Friday, she issued a ruling and reinstated Rice, who is now free to sign with any NFL team.
Janay Rice said she was "extremely surprised and angry" that the Ravens released her husband.
"It seemed like a knee-jerk reaction for publicity reasons," Janay wrote. "He was very close to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome. Ozzie would always say, 'Ray's my guy,' because Ray was Ozzie's pick. I know that Bisciotti loves Ray, even to this day."
She said she has thought about what she will tell her daughter someday.
"We'll tell her when we feel the time is right, and when she'll be able to understand it," Janay wrote. "I don't know exactly what I'll say, but we'll be honest with her. I will obviously tell her that it was wrong, and it's not something that you allow and to respect herself foremost, just like I was told as a child. But I'll also tell her that people make mistakes and you have to learn from them."