Ray Rice's two most important words

On Thursday afternoon, Ravens running back Ray Rice met with media for the first time since his suspension for knocking his fiancée unconscious, then dragging her out of an elevator like a bag of sand.

Unlike Rice's comments back in May, Thursday's statements seemed genuine and contrite. Instead of apologizing for what he had previously called "the situation my wife and I were in," he shouldered all the blame, saying "I made the biggest mistake of my life" and "I want to own it."

I don't approve of the word "mistake" to describe assault, and it's one that Rice used several times throughout the news conference. But something else struck me, two words that I thought were the most important to come out of his mouth: domestic violence. Instead of continuing to use softer, more benign terms such as "incident" or "situation," Rice finally called it what it was.

In today's NFL, words and phrases can often lose their meaning. A gay player, a DUI arrest and a contract holdout can all somehow, inexplicably, fall under the same term: "distraction." The Ravens' tone-deaf website can post an article about the training camp crowd giving Rice a standing ovation and never once mention his crime. That story, posted Monday, noted only that Rice has "been under a lot of national scrutiny" and has "been in the court of public opinion."

Ambiguous statements such as those might as well say, "Poor Ray. I hope this 'incident' doesn't 'distract' the team."

All of that changed Thursday, when Rice acknowledged that he committed an act of domestic violence and used those specific words. It was an indication that he's finally willing to own his actions. Conceding that a crime occurred that February night is an important step in his rehabilitation. Too many people still consider abuse between intimate partners a "household dispute" or "something between a man and his wife."

Let's get this straight: Domestic violence is assault. It is a criminal act. To use code words is to declaw the act itself and do a disservice to the overall issue and to the victims of the abuse.

What Janay Rice has said about her husband after the fact, to the media or to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, doesn't change what happened in that elevator. The events of that evening don't get rewritten as a result of Rice's rehabilitation, their marriage counseling or any efforts Rice might make to speak out on behalf of domestic violence victims.

Going forward, Rice has a chance to make this incident a piece of his story, and not the headline. Just by Rice's use of those two important words -- domestic violence -- Thursday's news conference looked like a crucial first step in the right direction.

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