Janay Rice, the wife of pro football player Ray Rice, spoke up for her husband in an interview with ESPN and explained what happened on the night he knocked her out inside an Atlantic City elevator, an incident that led to widespread criticism of the National Football League (NFL) for its policies regarding domestic violence.
“I still find it hard to accept being called a ‘victim,'” she said. “I know there are so many different opinions out there about me — that I’m weak, that I’m making excuses and covering up abuse — and that some people question my motives for staying with Ray.”
Janay’s account of the incident was published on the same day that a federal district judge ruled that her husband, who was placed on an indefinite suspension after security camera footage of the attack was published by TMZ, should be reinstated and eligible to resume his career.
ESPN’s Outside The Lines reported that Janay’s account was taken from a three-hour interview she conducted with His and Hers host Jemele Hill on Nov. 5 at her parents’ home in New Rochelle, New York. Ray was not present for the interview.
Janay said that both she and Ray, who were fiancees when the incident occurred this past February, were “bickering” after visiting a club with two other couples, including Ray’s brother and his girlfriend, after going to a club inside the Revel Casino.
“We were drunk and tired and while I know that some people may find it hard to believe, none of the six of us can remember exactly what Ray and I were arguing about. It was that insignificant,” she recalled. “As we were arguing, he was on his phone and not looking at me. I went to reach for his phone, and when he grabbed it back, he spit at me and I slapped him.”
The couple then went into an elevator, where Ray punched her, knocking her unconscious. Janay told ESPN that she remembers nothing from the incident, but that he later told her that she slapped him again before he struck her. The security camera footage also shows Ray pick her up then put her on the floor face-down.
“The video didn’t make me rethink our relationship, but I did want more of an explanation from him,” she said. “I asked him why he left me on the floor like that. I asked him how he felt when he saw that I was unconscious. He told me he was in shock. I asked him what happened when we got out of the elevator. He told me he was terrified because security was there. I asked him how he felt seeing me like that. He said he was thinking, ‘What did I just do?” I didn’t watch the video again.”
Ray was indicted on aggravated assault charges on March 27, and married Janay a day later. On May 21, he was accepted into a 12-month “intervention” program that allowed him to excise the charges from his criminal record upon completion. In June, the Rices met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, at which point she defended her husband’s character.
Goodell subsequently suspended Ray for two games, only to increase the punishment after scrutiny of both the footage and Goodell himself increased. Goodell also told CBS News that Ray had been “ambiguous” in describing the altercation.
But Judge Barbara S. Jones said in her ruling that Ray did not mislead the league.
“The Commissioner needed to be fair and consistent in his imposition of discipline,” she wrote. “Moreover, any failure on the part of the League to understand the level of violence was not due to Rice’s description of the event but to the inadequacy of words to convey the seriousness of domestic violence. That the League did not realize the severity of the conduct without a visual record also speaks to their admitted failure in the past to sanction this type of conduct more severely.”
Watch ESPN’s report on Janay’s statement, as aired on Friday, below.