Can Ray Rice ultimately be forgiven?


Story highlights

NFL players' union has appealed Ray Rice's indefinite suspension from the NFL

Many fans, including women, wore Rice's number at the Ravens' season opener

Rice's likability is a factor in whether the public will ultimately forgive him, expert says

Another factor, experts say, is the impact of what people saw Rice do in surveillance video

Editor’s Note: Kelly Wallace is CNN’s digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two girls. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

CNN —  

Try writing a post seeking comment on whether embattled NFL star Ray Rice could ultimately be forgiven and watch your social network streams light up with a fair amount of outrage questioning how you could even suggest such a thing.

It is definitely not politically correct to ask if a man seen on a hotel surveillance video knocking out his then-fiancée and dragging her from an elevator could one day face redemption.

But many other superstar athletes – from Michael Vick, who was convicted of bankrolling a dog fighting ring, to Tiger Woods, who was divorced by his wife after several allegations of infidelity – were forgiven by fans and the public.

Could – or should – the same thing happen with Rice, a 27-year-old running back recently released by the Baltimore Ravens?

There are signs some are already giving Rice a second chance.

Read: Children: The silent victims of domestic violence

In his first public appearance since being suspended indefinitely by the NFL – a suspension the NFL players’ union appealed on his behalf – he attended a football game Saturday at his high school alma mater in his hometown of New Rochelle, New York. Janay Rice, now his wife, was by his side, and his 2-year-old daughter sat on his shoulders for some of the game.

“Ray is a part of our family and a part of this program, and that’s why I’m very happy that he’s here today,” said the team’s coach, Lou DiRienzo, according to The Journal News. “He made a mistake – and he made a very terrible mistake – but I know the character of the man, and he will rise from this.”

At the Ravens’ first game of the season, several fans, including women, wore Rice’s No. 27 jersey. One, Lauren Brown, told CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront,” “He is human and people make mistakes.”

What it will take for the larger public to agree with that sentiment and forgive Rice comes down to two questions, according to Patrick Wanis, a human behavior expert. “One (is) how much do we actually like the person already? The second is what did we just see? If we see the results of the beating, we react more harshly,” Wanis said.

For instance, he points to the condemnation of singer Chris Brown after the photo of Rihanna’s bloody face surfaced. Brown ultimately pleaded guilty in June 2009 to assaulting his then-girlfriend on the eve of the Grammys.

Read: Ray Rice video prompts stories of #WhyIStayed, #WhyILeft

“When we see the bruises, the cuts, the bleeding, the scars, we feel a lot more pain, therefore we respond with a lot more anger,” Wanis said. “We have anger that says this situation needs resolving.”

Besides the brutality of the video that has now been seen by millions, Rice faces other challenges should he ultimately seek forgiveness, domestic violence experts and women and men around the country said: answering the questions of whether a man who hit his partner and knocked her out will do it again and whether he can ultimately change.

Katie Ray-Jones, president and chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said a man who hits his wife can stop if there is “an honest willingness to change and diligence applied to the process of changing.”

That means taking full responsibility for his actions and seeking help, said Ray-Jones. If Rice does that, he could be given a second chance, she said.

“Abusers deserve to be forgiven, especially if they make changes in their life that allows them to live a life free from continuing to be verbally, physically and/or sexually abusive,” said Ray-Jones. “We at the hotline wouldn’t be doing what we do if we didn’t feel that people can make change. However, change is difficult.”

Read: Obama ‘shocked’ by Ray Rice video, Washington turns attention to NFL

Jamie Berndt, a mom of four from Hilton Head, South Carolina, said forgiveness on the part of the public could be possible for Rice but not just because time passes or he apologizes.

CNN's Kelly Wallace says she sees signs that some are already giving Ray Rice a second chance.
Mark Hill/CNN
CNN's Kelly Wallace says she sees signs that some are already giving Ray Rice a second chance.

“Forgiveness comes when a person shows genuine remorse over and over, tries to do better over and over,” she said on Facebook. “It is trying to live right because that is right, not because one gains something in return.”

Tish Howard, a retired elementary school principal in Fredericksburg, Virginia, said forgiving does not mean condoning Rice’s actions. “Ray Rice was wrong, needs consequences, counseling and ultimately forgiveness. He needs deep counseling, not talking heads on TV.”

For others, the fact that Rice’s wife, Janay, has forgiven him means the public can and should forgive him, too.

“I personally think what he did is despicable,” said Scott Eddi of New York. “However, we are not his spouse. So ultimately if his wife has shown grace to forgive him … all we can do is support him. We all have done things in our past that we realize are wrong. The goal is to change and influence others to amend their behavior.”

Read: Domestic violence ‘ordinary’ in U.S.

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