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Anti-domestic violence activists say Ray Rice should get a second chance

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Jason DeCrow/AP/File

(Read caption) Ray Rice arrives with his wife Janay Palmer for an appeal hearing of his indefinite suspension from the NFL in New York on Nov. 5, 2014.

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Advocacy for Ray Rice’s return to the NFL has come from an unexpected source: the leaders of an anti-domestic violence group.  

Tony Porter and Ted Bunch, co-founders of the national organization A Call To Men, say the former Baltimore Ravens running back deserves a second chance in the NFL. 

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"A lot of people think we should kick him to the curb and his name should be mud forever. But how great would it be if everyone who made a mistake made it their mission to make sure a million people don't make the same mistake?" Mr. Porter said in an ESPN interview. "To use the influence that he has, what a great way to correct that wrong.”

After video footage of Mr. Rice punching his then-fiancée (and now-wife) Janay Palmer unconscious in a hotel elevator surfaced in September 2014, Rice was dropped by the Ravens and indefinitely banned from playing professionally. 

He was reinstated in the NFL in November, but has yet to be picked up by another team. So far, several teams have privately discussed bringing Rice on, but none have actually acted, ESPN reports.

Porter and Mr. Bunch, who have worked with Rice since November, say that they hope that will change. 

Finding a team to take him may be a challenge, however. As The Guardian reports, a online poll by ESPN SportsNation at the time of Rice’s reinstatement showed that 58 percent of the more than 400,000 people who opted to vote in the poll would not want their team to sign him.

But Porter and Bunch say the running back is “transparent” and “sincere” and genuinely regrets his actions. 

“He has a desire to compete again, but also to make a difference in the world,” Bunch said. “This is what mistakes should be about: learning from them and teaching others.”

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Others are already learning from the incident, as the infamous video of Rice and  Ms. Palmer sparked a nationwide debate about the larger problem of domestic violence in professional football. 

“The NFL has a violence against women problem and it is so far beyond the single Ray Rice incident that, I just can’t say, ‘This is how women should feel about Ray Rice being back on the field,’” said Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, to The Guardian.

To combat this problem, the NFL launched a “No More” campaign that included the first-ever domestic violence ad during the Super Bowl. In December, the league announced a new policy that outlined clearer punishments, established funds for counseling, expanded services for victims and violators, and set up a new special counsel. 

But some say the solution to the problem lies not in stricter punishments for Rice or other players accused of domestic abuse, but in changing the hypermasculine culture surrounding the NFL. 

"I think the conversation that the NFL is having on the punitive side,” former Syracuse quarterback and longtime gender equity activist Don McPherson told espnW. "It doesn't address the core issue of men's violence against women, which is the culture of masculinity and men that leads to misogyny and sexism and the overall notion that women are less than, which is very much a message that comes out of a lot of language in sport. And until we address those core issues, the problem will continue.”