The Ravens took the weekend to marshal a response to ESPN's big Ray Rice story, and it's here—in the form of a press conference by owner Steve Bisciotti and an online rebuttal to points made in the ESPN report. Bisciotti claims that all the anonymous sources on the Ravens' alleged mishandling on the situation are"Ray's attorney, Ray's agent, and Ray's friends," and that the story was "manufactured."
In their rebuttal, the Ravens never really offer a good answer for why they didn't get videotape from inside the Revel casino elevator. Instead, it seems like more of the same—they believed that video would show something that made it OK for Rice to hit his fiancée.
Bisciotti: "[I]t was our understanding based on Ray's account that in the course of a physical altercation between the two of them he slapped Janay with an open hand, and that she hit her head against the elevator rail or wall as she fell to the ground."
Ravens director of security Darren Sanders: "I did not receive an account of what happened in the elevator 'within hours' of the incident. Within a couple of days, I asked the casino and the Atlantic City Police Department for a copy of any videotape of the incident. They said they could not release a copy of the videotape to me. Some days later—I believe it was on February 25—I spoke to an Atlantic City police official again, asking again whether I could get a copy of the tape or, if not, whether I could come to his New Jersey office and view it. He said I could not, but he did offer to view the tape and describe what he saw. (As I understand it, he was describing a raw video, not the 'cleaned up,' 'smoothed . . . out' version that appeared on TMZ.) He said that Ray and Janay both appeared to be intoxicated, and that they were involved in a heated argument that began outside the elevator and continued inside. As he described it, Janay appeared to initiate the altercation, but they both spit at and struck each other, resulting in Janay falling and hitting her head against the wall railing. 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. It was not clear from the officer's account whether it was being intoxicated, being hit, or hitting her head against the railing that caused Janay's apparent unconsciousness."
GM Ozzie Newsome: "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."
Sanders: "Ray told me he slapped her. He denied punching her."
Coach John Harbaugh: "Ray Rice never told me that he punched her. In June, when I spoke to ESPN The Magazine, it was still my understanding that Ray had not punched her and was acting defensively."
Team president Dick Cass: "I believe Ray's criminal defense attorney mentioned the video to me in late May around the time that the court granted Ray's application for pretrial intervention. I don't recall his precise words, but he did say the video looked terrible. I did not ask Ray's attorney for a copy of the video. I assumed the video would be terrible, because it would show a man striking a woman. But I also thought the video would show a physical altercation where Ray was defending himself with an open hand."
In the rebuttal, Harbaugh denied the claim that he pushed to cut Ray Rice back in February. "I did not recommend cutting Ray Rice from the team after seeing the first videotape," Harbaugh is quoted as saying. "I was very disturbed by that tape, and I told people that the facts should determine the consequences. When I saw the second videotape, I immediately felt that we needed to release Ray."
Cass denied ESPN's claim that anyone with the Ravens argued for judicial leniency on Rice's behalf, except for "Ozzie, John and I [sending] a letter addressed to the Clerk's office in support of Ray's application for pretrial intervention."
The rebuttal takes major issue with the content of text messages sent by Bisciotti to Rice in the hours and days after he was cut. Here's how ESPN reported it:
Minutes later, Rice's phone buzzed. He could scarcely believe what he was looking at— back-to-back text messages from Bisciotti. Rice read them aloud so everyone in the room could hear them:
Hey Ray, just want to let you know, we loved you as a player, it was great having you here. Hopefully all these things are going to die down. I wish the best for you and Janay.
When you're done with football, I'd like you to know you have a job waiting for you with the Ravens helping young guys getting acclimated to the league.
A few days later, after thinking about it more, Rice told friends he believed Bisciotti was suggesting that, as long as he kept quiet and stuck to the story that he had misled team officials and Goodell about what had happened in the elevator, the Ravens would take care of him down the road. He felt incredibly insulted.
And here's how Bisciotti described the texts:
"I did have an exchange of text messages with Ray, which he initiated. 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":
Monday September 8, 7:44 pm
Ray: I understand the decision but I am thankful for what you have done for me and my family. Me and my wife will continue to work on us and being better but I just wanted to say thank you for giving me a chance
Steve: 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
Tuesday September 9, 10:27 pm
Steve: 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!!!
Ray: I know it's a rough time for all of us I love all of you and that will never change for life!
Steve: I will help you make it a great life indeed. I give you my WORD
Ray: That means the world to me and my family we greatly appreciate you and thank you.
At his press conference, Bisciotti was asked why he did not ask Rice's lawyer to see the tape after Rice reached a deal with prosecutors: "I did not think of it then."
Asked if had been curious what was on the tape, Bisciotti replied "No. No, I was not."
Bisciotti denied that he's close to Roger Goodell, and the report that he lobbied Goodell for leniency on Rice's suspension. He said he had expected a four- or six-game suspension for Rice. "If you think I'm going to get a favor out of Roger," Bisciotti said, "it's not something that will be published nationally."
Bisciotti accused Rice of having the wrong people in his ear. "What his lawyer is forcing him to do, I won't hold against him," he said. "He is getting advice I don't agree with." Bisciotti vowed that Rice will never play for the Ravens again, but said he would welcome him back to the organization after his playing career ends.
As for what he expects the ultimate fallout to be in the Ravens front office? "Nobody's losing a job here," Bisciotti said. "I'm very confident about that."
Update: Don Van Natta went on Outside the Lines to respond to Bisciotti's rebuttals. And there's this: