Rice saga puts quiet Ravens owner in spotlight
Rice saga puts quiet Ravens owner in spotlight
Sep. 13, 2014
BALTIMORE (AP) — The last time anyone saw this much of Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti he was celebrating the 2012 Super Bowl victory, clutching the Vince Lombardi Trophy and sharing the moment with coaches, players and fans.
It was a rare sight. He's not an owner who craves the spotlight.
When it comes to the Ravens, Bisciotti tries to limit his public speaking engagements to a once-a-year minimum, reluctantly joining team officials to sum up the season at the Ravens training complex. He is the type of person who makes his presence felt when he enters a room; he just doesn't take it over.
The Ray Rice debacle has forced Bisciotti out of his comfort zone.
Bisciotti has had to step up to the microphone while making the rounds attempting some major damage control.
The Ravens finally released their star running back this week, but only after an explicit video surfaced showing Rice viciously punching his then-fiancee in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino in February.
It's left the owner having to explain why he didn't take action sooner and coping with the fallout of wanting to believe Rice's story.
Bisciotti first sent a letter to Ravens season-ticket holders, explaining the team's shortcomings in its investigation. He wrote, "We did not do all we should have done and no amount of explanation can remedy that."
The 54-year-old Bisciotti went into detail, outlining how the Ravens handled — or mishandled — the investigation.
In the wake of The Associated Press report that the video was delivered to the NFL in April, some wonder whether the Ravens had a similar opportunity to see it. In addition, some disagree with Bisciotti's about-face involving Rice, a player the team fully supported until the video surfaced.
"The team usually stands behind its players, and that didn't happen here," said Stacey Nash, a 26-year-old season ticket holder. "Don't get me wrong. He's been a great owner and has upheld the (Art) Modell way. But this just seemed like he was doing what he could to protect the brand name."
Bisciotti, who is married and has two children, acknowledged he didn't do enough.
He said the casino, New Jersey police and the prosecutor's office refused to comply with the Ravens' request to see the video. The Ravens ultimately abandoned their effort, an action Bisciotti now regrets.
"We halted our fact-finding," Bisciotti wrote. "That was a mistake on our part."
He insists the first time he saw the video was Monday. He called the footage "violent and horrifying."
"Seeing that video changed everything," he told fans. "We should have seen it earlier. We should have pursued our own investigation more vigorously. We didn't and we were wrong."
Though Rice was cut within hours after the second video surfaced, there was an initial video showing him dragging Janay Palmer out of the elevator. General manager Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh say Rice was honest with them during their investigation, saying he hit her. There were also police documents saying Rice knocked his now wife unconscious.
Many believe that should have been enough for Bisciotti to take action.
But this is the organization that gave Ray Lewis a second chance after he was arrested in connection with a murder case. Rice was ultimately charged with aggravated assault and could have the charges dropped after completing a pretrial intervention program.
"He's a coward. He was just scared of public opinion, so that's why he just terminated" Rice, Ravens fan Timothy Bullock said of Bisciotti.
Those sentiments have to hurt Bisciotti, who is a jeans and sports jacket kind guy and at times has been more fan than owner.
When the Ravens won their first Super Bowl in 2001, Modell — then the majority owner — proudly thrust the trophy into the air to celebrate. Bisciotti, who had purchased a small portion of the team a few months earlier, had little involvement in the formal proceedings.
He rented a tent, hired a band and arranged to take 250 friends with him.
"I was kind of a fly on the wall for the whole experience," he said.
That has been his goal since he bought into the team.
One year after graduating from Salisbury State (Maryland) University in 1982, Bisciotti started a firm that offered aerospace and technology companies access to skilled temporary help. That agency, the Allegis Group, is now the largest staffing firm in the United States.
The success enabled him to buy a part of the Ravens in 2000, and Bisciotti was happy playing the role of low-profile minority owner.
"I'm OK if I'm one of the least-known owners in pro sports," he said at the time.
Bisciotti gained full ownership in 2004, and was front and center when the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 to win the Super Bowl in February 2013.
After last year's disappointing 8-8 season, Bisciotti said felt obligated to show up for his annual season-ending public appearance. Otherwise, he would have looked like a sore loser.
"If I win the Super Bowl next time," he said, "I'm not coming. Then I might never do it again."
Bisciotti is becoming one of the more well-known NFL owners, for all the wrong reasons.
Ravens players are putting on a unified front on the field, and in their public comments about the difficult situation they're in: caught in the middle, between a popular teammate and their employer.
"We understand Ray made a mistake, and certainly we support the decision that Steve made," Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta said. "He's our owner, he's our fearless leader, and they did what they felt was best. And now we've got to move forward."
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