That changed with the release of a video Monday that shows Ray Rice striking his then-fiancee in February. Hours later, the running back was let go by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
Players across the league made their feelings clear through social media and in interviews.
Among the most outspoken was Denver defensive tackle Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton.
He unleashed a series of tweets saying, among other things, that Rice should be kicked out of the league and thrown in jail. He also criticized NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for initially suspending Rice for just two games.
“It just came from the heart, really,” Knighton explained later in the locker room. “Whether I was a football player or not, I spoke my mind. A lot of guys don’t speak their mind just because they’re worried about the consequences and what people think. But I’m one of those guys that regardless of what it is, I’m going to speak my mind.
“I felt strongly about the situation and domestic violence overall. So I just spoke on it. I gave my opinion. I think the league handled it the right way.”
Denver teammate Bubba Caldwell said Knighton’s tweets made him watch the video, “and once I saw it, I was 100 percent behind him. I would never want anybody to put their hands on my mother or sister. I believe the punishment is what it should be.”
Caldwell acknowledged that players are loathe to criticize one another, but “sometimes you’ve got to step up, not just as a football player, and voice your opinion. And if you really feel strongly about something, I don’t think the uniform you wear or the team you play for should determine if you speak out or not.”
Knighton is the oldest of four boys, “and I’m a role model for them also. So, I don’t think that’s acceptable in any workplace, any job you have, anywhere you live, wherever you are, what color you are, how much money you make. That shouldn’t be accepted anywhere.”
He said if one of his teammates were involved in domestic violence, “I wouldn’t be friends with the guy or talk to the guy.”
Knighton said he didn’t speak out about Rice’s initial two-game suspension because he didn’t know all the details.
“Originally, you just see him carrying her so you don’t know what happened,” Knighton said. “… But now that the video is out, I think the league handled it the right way. Like I said, there’s no place in the world for domestic violence.”
When Knighton was voted a defensive captain by his peers last week, he said part of being a leader was “speaking your mind. When things are uncomfortable and things are wanted to be said, you man up and say those things.”
When he saw the TMZ video of Rice’s hit, Knighton took to Twitter, saying “this video “makes me sick to my stomach” and adding, “That man should be thrown out the nfl and thrown into jail. Shame on those deciding his punishment. Smh.”
Here’s a sampling of other reactions across the NFL:
— Steelers cornerback William Gay:
“We’re talking about a life, I don’t care about a sport when it comes down to domestic violence. This is real. Someone can lose their life to it.
“So I’m not concerned about the sport. I’m concerned about what happens in the world, what happens in real life. ”
Gay’s mother, Carolyn, was shot and killed by Gay’s stepfather in Tallahassee, Florida, when Gay was 7 years old. He volunteers at the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh and is an advocate for domestic violence victims.
“We need to do everything we can to help Ray Rice because we don’t need to run away from him and say he’s evil.”
— Bills coach Doug Marrone, who supports Vera House, which assists victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse:
“Am I happy the NFL has taken a harder stance? … I mean, there is no excuse for abuse. I really believe that.”
— Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine, who called the video “deeply disturbing, especially as a father that has two daughters”:
“There’s just no place for that behavior in our society.”
— Titans tackle Michael Oher, former teammate of Rice’s in Baltimore whose locker was next to the running back:
“If my daughter was to get hit like that from another man, I’d have a serious problem with it. So I wish him the best, but it’s no place for that. I don’t care if you’re a football player, a professional athlete or anything, a regular man or anything, there’s no place for that — striking a woman.”
— Judy Harris Kluger, a former New York City judge and now executive director of Sanctuary for Families, a leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence and related forms of gender violence:
“The video of Ray Rice punching his fiancee in the elevator is a graphic illustration of what goes on behind closed doors every day in this country. In my years as a prosecutor and judge, I never saw such explicit videotape evidence of domestic violence. Today, by acting quickly and decisively, and in suspending Ray Rice and terminating his contract, the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens sent a powerful message that domestic violence will not be tolerated.
“I hope that with this action, along with the new policy outlined by Commissioner Goodell, the NFL will emerge as leaders in the fight against domestic violence.”