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Ray Rice could be reinstated, but the road back will be a long one

Teams mentioned in reports as being interested in Ray Rice will have to weigh the risks.

Former Ravens running back Ray Rice will probably have to be reinstated by the NFL after his appeal hearing Nov. 5-6, but he most likely won't play again until next season.

Rice is still carrying too much baggage and can't completely start rebuilding his image until the offseason, when he can begin an apology tour, as well as a campaign to raise public awareness of domestic abuse.

The public backlash still exists. It's clearly evident from the Halloween costumes some are wearing. The ones where people are dressing in Rice's Ravens jersey and dragging around a doll by the hair.

It just shows that the image of Rice knocking his then-fiancee, Janay, unconscious in an elevator is still strong in the minds of the general public.

In a lot of places, perception is reality. Those memories haven't faded.

Rice was initially suspended for two games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the league's personal conduct policy, but Goodell later made the suspension indefinite after a second video came out. Goodell has said that Rice's version differed from what was on the second video and that's why he was given the increased penalty.

During the appeals process next week, Rice's representatives will argue that Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn't allow a player to be disciplined twice for the same offense. It's a valid argument, and Rice should win.

There has been speculation that New England coach Bill Belichick would sign Rice if he wins the appeal because the Patriots have had injuries at running back and because Belichick is close to Rice's former Rutgers coach, Greg Schiano. But Patriots owner Robert Kraft was one of the first owners to support Goodell after the second video surfaced and said in September that he doubted Rice would play again in the league, let alone for the Patriots.

Kraft will win out in that situation. There is a belief that owners get into the business of owning a pro sports team because they want to win championships. Actually, that's a by-product. They want to make money.

Teams could lose money by signing Rice and having sponsors back out, especially New England, which has already had its share of off-the-field problems with former tight end Aaron Hernandez.

The Colts, coached by former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, and the Bills, also hit hard by injuries at running back, have also been mentioned in reports as having interest in Rice. Any team would have to do its homework, possibly interviewing corporate sponsors to see how they would react if Rice was signed.

Signing Rice would also create a media circus and distractions. Just ask the Ravens. Their parking lot and locker rooms were filled with national media during training camp and the preseason. Certain organizations could handle it, but a lot of them couldn't.

Is Rice worth possibly tearing apart a team, a running back who had just 660 yards on 214 carries in 2013? There is also a trust issue. Rice betrayed the trust of owner Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti when he made some of his private text messages available in an ESPN story, basically criticizing the organization.

The messages were proven to be taken out of context, but if Rice violated the trust of an owner, could teammates trust him?

There are just 32 owners in the NFL, and they have been supportive of Goodell in the handling of Rice's case. Signing Rice before the end of the season might be seen as a slap in the face of the commissioner, who only recently sent out a memo to every team demanding they show more of the league's "No More" public service announcements about ending domestic violence.

The NFL can't afford to have Rice return this season because the lingering effects are still too strong. All you have to do is remember that long line of fans stretching around M&T Bank Stadium to return Rice's No. 27 jersey.

That was just here in Baltimore. Imagine what the fallout would be around the rest of the country. Just weeks after the second video went public, NBC's "Saturday Night Live" made fun of the Ravens and the NFL over their handling of domestic violence issues.

The Ravens and the NFL haven't made it any better by not cooperating with the NFLPA, which is doing its own investigation of the Rice situation, according to reports. The Ravens don't have to answer any questions because the NFLPA doesn't have any subpoena power, but team and league officials said they were going to be transparent in this process.

We should have known better. The Ravens weren't even transparent about tight end Owen Daniels' surgery last week. There is an arrogance there that won't subside.

Rice deserves another chance to play in the NFL, where he has been a model of perseverance, an undersized running back playing in a league that prides itself on size and speed. And he has been a standout for most of his career until 2013, when his play on the field struggled as well as his relationship with others, including his teammates.

All the current consequences are the results of his actions. But eventually, Rice will get a chance to redeem himself, and that opportunity will probably come next year.

It's appropriate and fitting — for Rice as well as the NFL.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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