Barbie Callahan’s Ray Rice jersey sat untouched at the back of her closet for “probably” about 10 years, ever since a video showed him assaulting Janay Palmer, his now-wife.

When Callahan heard the Ravens would be honoring Rice Sunday as their Legend of the Game, she dusted off the jersey and asked friends what they thought about her wearing it. Some answered honestly, telling her they weren’t sure how they felt. But, as they talked about what he’s done in the past decade, the reactions turned to “Hell yeah, wear the jersey,” she said.

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Callahan found it extremely difficult to watch as Rice hit Palmer, his then-fiancée, knocked her out and dragged her out of an elevator at an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino in 2014. But she’s heard about the work he’s done to better both himself and the community, including starting organizations, talking to mental health experts and speaking out about domestic violence.

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The fact that Rice is taking his experience and using it to teach young players about domestic violence (he has spoken to over a dozen NFL teams and colleges, according to an article published on the Ravens’ website) is important because he’s a “prime example” who can speak from experience, Callahan said.

The Banner interviewed a small sample of fans, and their reactions ranged from indifference to wary acceptance to excitement, but no one expressed the sentiment that the Ravens should not honor Rice.

Although Taylor Carnaggio is not the biggest football fan, she was a Rice fan back in the day — “until the incident happened.” She found out he was the Legend of the Game from her boyfriend and said the news was “a little shocking.”

However, Carnaggio hasn’t followed Rice’s activities since the incident. Finding out about the work he’s done helped her wrap her mind around why the Ravens are honoring him.

“I think [the Ravens] should [publicize it] because I think everybody’s thinking the same thing I am, that he hit his wife, so he’s classified as a woman beater, so I think they should advertise that he’s changed his ways,” Carnaggio said. “Because I do believe that people do change and make mistakes, so I think they should give him a chance. They don’t advertise it at all.”

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Ahead of the game, the Ravens interviewed Rice on the field. They asked about what he’s done in the decade since his arrest, and he said this day isn’t about what he did on the field but what he’s done since.

“This is as big as winning the Super Bowl for me,” Rice said. “And I feel like it’s just a different go-around. I feel like this is just a place that — forget the rewards on the field, just look at what I’ve been doing over the last 10, 12 years of my life.”

Rice explained that, while he gave his all on the field, he was not doing the same off the field. Getting help through therapy has changed his life, he said, and he shared that he has dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts. He decided, instead of running from it, he would confront it. Since then, he has spoken out publicly against domestic violence. He said he doesn’t advertise himself as an expert but rather as someone who has been through it, and he hopes his experience will be relatable for fellow football players.

“As a man, you can react differently to certain situations,” Rice said. “And that’s what I’m here to tell the guys. I’m not an expert in it, but split-second decisions are what they face every day on the football field. We’ve got to be in our right mind when we’re doing those things.”

Although Khris Wilson also believes in second chances, she was a bit unsure about the idea of not just forgiving Rice but honoring him. She said she understands honoring what he did as a player, but she’s not sure he should be honored as a person.

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Miami Dolphins fan Kim Burke, who found out Saturday night Rice was being honored, has similar feelings — albeit about one of the Dolphins players the Ravens faced Sunday.

Wide receiver Tyreek Hill has had numerous incidents with assault, domestic and otherwise. According to a Yahoo Sports article, he was released from Oklahoma State after pleading guilty to punching and choking his pregnant girlfriend in 2014. He was then suspended from the Kansas City Chiefs after a conversation was released in which he told his wife and child to be afraid of him. He did not face criminal charges or discipline from the NFL. In 2023, he reached a settlement after an alleged assault of an employee at a South Florida marina.

Burke said she loves Hill as a player but has refrained from buying his jersey because of those incidents. But, in Rice’s case, she said she heard he has “redeemed himself.” She also pointed out that Rice was caught on video, whereas other players who have been accused of assault have not been punished in the same way because there is no video evidence.

Jen Brown came to the game specifically to see Rice honored. She knows about his organization, “Pipeline 2 Prosperity,” and wanted to support him, his family and his charity.

“I think he learned from what happened, and it’s good that he goes out and talks to other NFL players to say, ‘Hey, don’t walk in my footsteps. Do it a different way,’” Brown said.

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The reactions in the comment section of the Ravens’ YouTube channel when they streamed his pregame interview were much more mixed. They ranged from “We forgive you” to “IDC WHAT HE DID, HE BALLED OUT” to “DON’T HIT WOMEN.”

Cindy Galliher and her husband have come to the conclusion that Rice is a good guy, despite his past, but they see how people who haven’t followed his journey would be shocked.

“I think people make a judgment, and then they don’t learn any further,” Galliher said.

Two months and 15 days before the 10th anniversary of the incident, Rice stood with Janay and their two children, and waved to the Ravens fans applauding him. Although it wasn’t an overwhelming ovation, it was mostly positive, and the welcome was reflected in Rice’s smile.

“In order to be a legend, you have to do something significant in your life,” Rice said. “That can be good or bad. I think that, today, what it means for me going into the new year, is, the work that was done. I know what I did on that football field. ... And I think that I’ve been doing it, and to have it here on New Year’s Eve, with a chance to become the No. 1 seed, clinch all of the playoff love and all that stuff that we talk about in order to go to the Super Bowl, this is the best New Year’s Eve I could ever ask for. This is my Super Bowl before our Super Bowl.”

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