The New England Patriots need a running back. Ray Rice, whom the Patriots once saw at his best in big Patriots-Ravens games, needs a job. Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick and the Patriots ought to at least give Rice, who is still just 29, a chance to show them that he still has enough football left in him to help them this season. The Pats can also show in the process that they believe in second chances for everybody, and not just those whose terrible acts of domestic violence were not caught on elevator video.
This isn't about forgiving and forgetting with Rice. Nobody who saw that video -- and by now you believe that if there's life on Mars, they saw it there -- is ever going to forget the horrifying image of Rice throwing that right hand to the head of the young woman, Janay Palmer Rice, who was then his fiancée and is now about to give birth to their second child. It is an image that is the first paragraph of any story written about Rice for the rest of his life. For this act, Rice has paid with his football life. And, believe me, there are a lot of people, men and women, good with that. They have decided that Rice, no matter what he has done since with his life, is a bad man, and apparently one they've decided cannot be rehabilitated.
Of course, you always have to offer the same disclaimers with Rice, even now, all this time after what happened with him and Janay in Atlantic City on Valentine's Day in 2014, starting here: I was as hard on Rice in the aftermath of that incident as anybody in this business was. And it always must be pointed out that with the subject of domestic violence, each case is completely different, as was the case of Adrian Peterson, who took a switch to his 4-year old son. So while the subject is the same, it will always be complicated with equivalencies.
But any attempt at even reasonable equivalencies comes to a dead stop because of the elevator video.
When John Mara, the co-owner of the New York Giants and the man who runs the football operation there, recently defended the Giants' decision to re-sign -- and now stand by -- a kicker named Josh Brown, despite Brown having been arrested for domestic violence and despite his ex-wife alleging that Brown had been abusive to her on more than 20 occasions, it was almost a default mechanism to cite Rice.
"[Incidents like these] are very rarely black and white; you very rarely have a Ray Rice video," Mara said.
Actually, you pretty much never do.
So we don't know what really happened last October with Aroldis Chapman, a relief pitcher who might get the last out of the World Series for the Cubs, with his girlfriend at his home in Florida, where he was accused of choking her and then firing off eight gunshots in his garage, even though he was never charged with a crime. Only two people, Jose Reyes and his wife Katherine, know what happened with them around the same time at a hotel in Maui, when it was alleged that Reyes shoved Katherine into a sliding glass door. The charges against Reyes were later dropped as well. He has now become an essential part of a Mets playoff run and a fan favorite and, by all accounts, a popular figure in the Mets' clubhouse.
Josh Brown has a job with the Giants once he serves a one-game suspension (you wonder what he would have had to do in the eyes of the NFL to get more than that) and Chapman has a big job with what might be the biggest team in America by the end of October and so does Reyes. Rice, who got hurt in his last season with the Ravens, before he threw that punch, and whose performance fell off dramatically, can't even get a tryout in the National Football League. All the teams who are afraid to give him a tryout point to his numbers in the 2013 season -- 660 rushing yards, four touchdowns, 3.1 yards a carry -- and add those numbers to the baggage that Rice would bring to their team, and they pass.
Only then you look at what the Patriots have at running back these days and think that if any other running back on the planet had even his modest '13 numbers, and was not yet 30, they would absolutely be giving that running back a good, long look. This week the Patriots signed Bishop Sankey, released by the Titans, for their practice squad. Sankey had 762 rushing yards on 199 carries and three touchdowns in his first TWO NFL seasons. He joins these other backs on Belichick's roster: LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, James White and D.J. Foster.
Is Rice better than any of them after being out of football for two seasons? I have no idea. But neither does a single owner or executive or coach in his league. Bob Kraft doesn't know and neither does Belichick. Kraft said a couple of years ago that Rice would never play for his team. He is allowed to change his mind on that, the way Rice has tried mightily to change people's minds about him. It would be the right thing for Kraft to do.
Rice has been invited to speak to players at Alabama and Florida State and Georgia and his alma mater, Rutgers. And UConn, and Western Michigan. Rice, who comes out of New Rochelle, has spoken to kids in the New York area. He has offered to donate whatever salary he would get if he ever gets another football job to different and relevant causes. The people who still want the league to send the most powerful message about domestic violence through him -- but only through him, apparently -- say that this is all just an elaborate pose from Rice to get back on the field. But if it is, it certainly has become a fulltime job, even as he still can't get a job in the NFL.
This is what Rice told me at the end of July:
"I know that I can't save everyone. But I know I will save someone. That I do know. Somebody will hear my story and say, 'You know what? My life is just like his.' Growing up, facing adversity, being the man of the household at a young age [Rice's father was killed when Ray Rice was a year old], taking responsibilities. The story is a lot. I'm not making excuses. My story was not ideal, which a lot aren't. But that's not an excuse. But one of things I would say to a man in America is it doesn't make you less of a man to ask for help."
Rice and his representatives continue to do that right now, as another NFL season starts without him. He will always be the face of domestic violence in his sport, because of that video, until a worse image comes along. Again: Nobody will ever forget what he did, come on. Even if he somehow does get back on the field, he will never be able to out-run that. He knows it. But he has done more since that night to live a life that is more than an apology.
There is a lot of Al Davis in Bill Belichick. He has never much cared what people think if he thought something was right for his football team. He remembers what it was like, when Rice was still young, before his fall, when Rice ran 83 yards for a touchdown in the playoffs against the Patriots on a day when the Ravens defeated Belichick's team soundly.
It is a long time ago. So much has happened. Bob Kraft, a great owner and a good man, said what he said about Rice two years ago. He is allowed to change his mind, when he looks at everything Rice has done since he was suspended by the NFL and suspended again, and then released by the Ravens. Rice knows he is not owed a second chance, or a job. If he can't play, he knows he doesn't deserve a job, even if he has done everything possible to show the world that he is more than one violent moment.
But nobody knows whether he can still play or not. How can a team like the Patriots not at least give him a chance? Last January, the Pats lost to the Broncos, 20-18, in the AFC Championship Game. You know who their leading rusher was in that game, with 13 yards? Tom Brady. They don't even have him to carry the ball right now.