OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ray Rice faced the music Thursday. But when it was time for the Baltimore Ravens running back to address reporters for the first time since the NFL handed down his controversial two-game suspension last week for violating the league's personal conduct policy, you could hear a pin drop.
With his wife, Janay Rice, watching from a balcony overlooking a large contingent that included reporters, Ravens staffers and about two dozen players, Rice struck a tone of extreme contrition for the incident that led him to this point.
"I made the biggest mistake of my life," said Rice.
"I want to own it."
Rice entered a diversionary program in May, three months after an infamous episode with his wife (who was his fiancee at the time) at an Atlantic City casino led to an aggravated assault charge against him. Security cameras caught Rice pulling an apparently unconscious Janay Rice out of an elevator.
"My actions that night were totally inexcusable," said Rice, who apologized profusely to his wife, 2-year-old daughter, teammates, the Ravens organization, Baltimore community and even other victims of abuse. "That's not who I am as a man."
He admitted he needed help in the aftermath of the assault but pledged to help others suffering from domestic violence once his counseling is complete.
Rice admitted the press conference with his wife in May was "awkward" and took another opportunity to publicly apologize to her. He took no questions then while letting the legal and NFL disciplinary process play out.
"My wife can do no wrong," he said Thursday, while declining several times to discuss what exactly happened in the elevator. "She's an angel."
The league has been subjected to a withering fusillade of blowback from both traditional and social media, with many of the critics wondering why Rice's penalty for allegedly knocking out a woman is only half as harsh as the four-game suspensions so often issued to early-stage violators of the NFL's substance abuse or performance-enhancing drug policies.
Rice would only say he had no control over the process.
In a letter to Rice, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote he believed the running back's efforts to atone for his mistake and undergo counseling were "sincere" but warned, "your conduct was unquestionably inconsistent with league polices and the standard of behavior required of everyone who is part of the NFL. The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game. This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women."
Rice is already anticipating uncomfortable receptions on the road and maybe even at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium when he plays this season.
"I'm prepared for the worst," he said. "But that's something I brought upon myself."
In addition to being docked his team's opening games against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, Rice will also forfeit an additional game check.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome classified the penalty as "fair" last week while vouching for the character of Rice, who had a sterling off-field reputation prior to the incident.
Rice expressed appreciation for the support he has received from the locker room.
"We all make mistakes. I've made mistakes in the past," said Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil. "I've known Ray for a while.
"He's a great guy, man."
Rice consistently ran with the first-team offense during Thursday's training camp session and seemed to have good burst a year removed from a career-worst season when his production was hindered by a lingering hip injury.
The Ravens, who are also in the midst of installing a completely different offense under new coordinator Gary Kubiak, will rely on veteran backs Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett during Rice's absence.
Rice called football his "safe haven" and said he would not have appealed any discipline.
"I live with the pain of me and my wife having to explain that to my daughter," he said. "Not only my daughter, I have kids who look up to me. In some people's eyes, Ray can do no wrong."