OWINGS MILLS, Md. - Torrey Smith wants to make it clear that he neither condones nor absolves what Ray Rice did in an Atlantic City casino that fateful February night, when the Ravens running back allegedly knocked his then-fiancee unconscious and dragged her out of an elevator.
And Smith, himself an eyewitness to domestic violence when he saw his mother beaten during his difficult childhood, wants you to know he will not abandon his good friend. Not after what he has seen from Rice in the wake of an incident that led to a league-mandated suspension that has been widely criticized as being too lenient.
"People tend to think of [Rice] as the worst guy in the world for a mistake he made," fourth-year Ravens wide receiver Smith said before practice Saturday at the team's training facility. "You have to support him, because it's very easy for everyone to turn their backs on him. People outside of Baltimore don't know what he's done for this city. That doesn't change what he's done, but people are going to view him as a monster or someone who doesn't care, just because it was one mistake."
Smith is not merely professing blind loyalty to his friend and teammate, as you might expect many in Rice's inner circle to react. In fact, had Smith not seen genuine remorse from Rice along with a concerted effort to change his thinking and change his behavior in a very real way, Smith said their friendship would be over.
"I grew up around domestic violence, so I have a different perspective from most of the people who are speaking on ," said Smith, one of seven children raised by his single mother, Monica, in Colonial Beach, Virginia. "It's not a good thing at all. It's very tough to experience, and the biggest thing I tell folks -- because I was an eyewitness to it with my mom -- is that he made a mistake and that he has done the right things since.
"It's not like he's saying 'sorry' and he's right back to the same old tricks, or just apologizing and nothing's changed and it's fixed for a day," said Smith, who is married to Chanel Smith. The couple had their first child in April, and Torrey Smith has been very public about stressing the importance of family, long before the Rice incident.
"No, he's making real changes, to change himself as a man, and I can see those changes in him. He's a better man for it, a better husband, a better father from it. Being that I can see it and you can see real change, I'm willing to stand behind him."
And if Smith felt Rice had not made legitimate attempts to change?
"If it was the other way, he'd be my teammate," Smith said, "but there would be no respect there."
Rice, who was not made available for comment Saturday, told reporters at a news conference on July 31 that the incident in the casino elevator was "the biggest mistake of my life" and that he takes "full responsibility" for what happened. "I don't condone any of my behavior," said Rice, who was charged with third-degree aggravated assault but avoided jail time by entering a diversionary program. He must steer clear of trouble and continue to receive family counseling with his wife.
"I know that a lot of people out there have lost respect . . . maybe not like me anymore," Rice said. "That's my fault."
He has not lost Smith's support, though. In fact, it was Smith's idea to gather most of his teammates and attend the July 31 news conference, attended by a horde of media, including many non-sports outlets.
"I just knew what he was about to go through," Smith said. "I knew he would take a lot of heat, because the story is bigger than football."
The message from Smith and his teammates: "We'll be there to support him. Let's just stand right there so he knows we're there for him.''
Said Smith, "Everyone knows me and Ray are good friends, but I'm not just saying things because it's a public relations move or because it's what people want to hear. I'm saying it because I truly believe it. I have values I believe in and certain things I stand for. So I'll take the heat that comes with it.
"People say, 'How can you support domestic violence?' I'm not supporting domestic violence. I'm supporting a friend, a brother, someone who needs it . . . If I didn't feel like it's the right situation to support an individual, or had he not been changing or doing anything to progress, I wouldn't support it. But he's doing everything the right way."