Ray Rice is from my hometown. He was our golden boy — the star player on the football team, top scorer on the basketball team and a heartthrob. Rumor has it he used his first paycheck to buy a house for his mother. His photo made it into the hall of fame in the high school rotunda, and a framed jersey hung in the gymnasium next to the state title banners. I remember staring at it as we did sprints. Another jersey was pinned, frameless, in our weight room beside a poster proclaiming, “No pain. No gain.”
Ray came back every off-season. He would lift in that dank basement weight room, where sewage overflowed during big storms and the dropped ceiling compressed years of sweat. People said he wanted to avoid the attention he’d get at the ritzy New York Sports Club in the Trump building downtown. I think he liked looking up at his jersey.
My off-season was his off-season, so I struggled to lift 15s while he curled 100s like they were Campbell’s soup cans. We chatted about our knee injuries — my ACL scar was still fresh — and he flirted with my friend whose nickname was “The Cake” for her rotund rear-end. Giggly girls soon filled the weight room during the team’s six am workouts, once the bane of winter.
I heard about the punch when it happened. I meant to read more about it. Waiting for a friend last week I pulled up the video on my phone. The most haunting part was when the footage cut from outside to inside the elevator. The doors closed and I was alone with the couple. I knew what was coming and yet the blow shocked me. I didn’t expect to start crying.
Last Monday afternoon my high school removed Ray’s photo plaque from the rotunda and his Raven’s jersey from the gym. Students have started a petition to put both back up. It mentions his role in leading us to a state title and starting Ray Rice day, a community-wide celebration of football. Their tag line is, “Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you.” As I write this, the petition has 49 signatures. I won’t be taking it to 50.
I used to take pride in telling the story of my morning workouts with Ray. We didn’t share career aspirations, but I admired his work ethic and liked to think a little of it came from our school’s motto “Strive for Excellence.” It saddens me that he’ll likely forever be known for his assault. But it scares me to hear my former classmates justifying his actions, suggesting his fiancé deserved it.
On Sunday Ray attended our high school football game. He was welcomed warmly, perhaps no longer as a superstar, but as a member of our community. Media attention had begun to fade and the video had stopped replaying in my head. It had been replaced by a conversation that I imagine will come in a few years. Ray and Janay’s daughter, Rayven, will be old enough to work an iPhone. She’ll come across the video where her dad slugs her mother. I don’t think it will make a difference where her father’s jersey is hanging or whether the NFL has allowed him to play again. Ray’s toughest job is going to be explaining himself to Rayven.
Julia Schwarz is a junior in Davenport College. Contact her at email@example.com.