Editor’s Note: This is Janay Rice’s story, as told to ESPN’s Jemele Hill. On Wednesday, Nov. 5, Jemele interviewed Janay for three hours at the home of Janet Rice, Ray Rice’s mother, in their hometown of New Rochelle, New York. Ray Rice was not present. Janay’s account of what happened in Atlantic City, and in the months that followed, was written from Jemele’s extensive interview, as well as a phone follow-up. No questions were off limits. Janay Rice was given approval over its content and release date.
There was something different about that day. The two of us were just off, starting that morning. I was annoyed because it was Valentine’s Day and Ray and one of his friends had planned a group trip to Atlantic City, while I had wanted to do something with just the two of us.
I was going to surprise Ray at the hotel with a couples massage, but the manager spoiled the surprise by calling Ray to confirm the time, instead of checking with me. From that moment on I was annoyed with everything, but I continued to act as if I was fine. We weren’t even in Atlantic City yet and nothing seemed to be going right.
After a silent, three-hour car ride we arrived at the hotel, where everything seemed to be much better. There were two other couples hanging out with us — Ray’s brother and his girlfriend, plus another couple we’d become close to in Baltimore. All of us went to dinner, and then met up again later at the club inside of the Revel Casino. We were drinking and having a good time. The six of us shared two to three bottles of liquor, which we also shared with a few fans who came up to us.
After the club, our friends from Baltimore, Ray and I decided to go to the late-night restaurant in the casino. Ray and I were bickering. We were drunk and tired and while I know that some people may find it hard to believe, none of the six of us can remember exactly what Ray and I were arguing about. It was that insignificant.
As we were arguing, he was on his phone and not looking at me. I went to reach for his phone, and when he grabbed it back, he spit at me and I slapped him.
We got into the elevator and what happened inside is still foggy to me. The only thing I know — and I can’t even say I “remember” because I only know from what Ray has told me — is that I slapped him again and then he hit me. I remember nothing else from inside the elevator.
The next thing I do recall is being in the casino lobby, surrounded by cops.
The police separated us and arrested us. They told me they had the entire incident on video. I was bawling. The cops tried to tell me what happened and I refused to believe them. If anything, I just felt like I was still drunk. I said to one officer, “That’s not us. What do you mean?” There were no marks on my face or body, and I felt perfectly fine. I was in complete shock.
They took Ray and I to the police station, where they held us together in the same room, but they kept us far enough apart so that they could talk to us separately. Eventually, we were left alone and Ray kept saying, “It’s going to be OK. We’ll be OK.” He just kept crying and apologizing, but I didn’t really want to speak to him.
We were at the police station for about six hours. Our Baltimore friends waited patiently as the police questioned us, and then drove us back home. I didn’t want to talk because we weren’t in the car alone. While in the car Ray called his manager; the Ravens security director, Darren Sanders; and his mom.
I was basically silent the whole way home. I was just in a fog.
THE FIRST TIME Ray and I met was at the local movie theatre in New Rochelle. I was 14 years old and he was 15. I was standing outside with a friend when he came up to me. I don’t remember much, except that he said I was pretty and I reminded him of Alicia Keys. I remember everyone walking by knowing him and coming up to just shake his hand. I had no clue Ray was a football player. I’m from New Rochelle’s rival town, Mt. Vernon where we eat, sleep, breathe basketball, so Ray knew from day one I wasn’t impressed by Ray Rice the football player. After continually asking for my number, I gave it to him and we’ve been friends ever since.
We started talking regularly and began building a friendship. He was a good guy and what I loved most was he made me laugh. We were friends for about five years, but didn’t date. During the summer of 2007, he started coming home from Rutgers a lot, and we just kept running into each other. I loved the fact that he had such a huge heart, and put everyone else first. I will always remember the time we went to the Galleria Mall and he bought sneakers and clothes for all his siblings and family members, but not one thing for himself. He always made me feel like the most special woman in the world. We started seeing and talking to each other more, and it grew into a relationship.
Ray and I came from very different backgrounds. I came from a home with both parents. Ray never knew his father because he was murdered when Ray was just a year old. When Ray came to my parents’ house for the first time, he jumped straight into conversation with my mom, who has always been a strong, independent force in our lives. But she was comfortable with him from the beginning.
When he met my dad, I was nervous. My father is a soft-spoken, strong man. He welcomed Ray with open arms. They shared a love of sports and that drew them closer. My father let him know how much he cares for his daughters, and since Ray didn’t have his father growing up, getting close to my father meant a lot to him.
I knew our relationship was getting serious when Ray opened up to me about leaving school early for the NFL draft. After he was drafted by the Ravens, he broke down in tears and asked me to move to Maryland and consider going to school there. I couldn’t believe it, but the timing was perfect. I was just finishing Westchester Community College, and I was looking to transfer to a four-year school.
He was in his first training camp with the Ravens when my mom and I went to visit Towson University. Ray came with us to visit the school. I was sold on taking the next step of my life with Ray.
In the beginning, it was an easy transition to Baltimore. I worked hard to maintain my own identity. I was going to school, had my own apartment and my own friends outside of the football world.
We were like every other young couple, but being young, rich and famous only made things harder. Like any young couple, we faced our challenges. Until this past year, that first one in Baltimore was the most difficult in our relationship. It was my first time being away from home. We only had each other, which was an adjustment. And I was working and going to school, which was a heavy load. He was trying to find his place on the team. Sometimes I would think, I don’t know if I can deal with this. He’s always gone. People are always in his face. His head could get big and I would have to bring him down to reality.
We were engaged in May 2012. Ray had come home for the weekend and proposed in front of my house. The first thing I asked him was, “Did you ask my dad?” He said yes, course.
A few weeks after Ray proposed, I found out I was pregnant with Rayven. I told him I didn’t want to get married with baby weight, so we waited. That was a good thing, because there were things we needed to work on in our relationship that we might have ignored because we were just young.
Rayven changed both of our lives. We were working together for something, which was Rayven. Family has always been a priority for me, and the love Ray has for Rayven reminded me of my relationship with my own father.
One big thing: Ray used to say that as long as he had football and took care of his family, then everything else would fall into place. But relationships take work, which is something we both had to learn.
We had our share of normal disagreements, and having a newborn only made it harder. After Rayven was born, it was a tough transition. We would get on each other about going out too much, spending more time with our friends than with each other, and Ray not changing enough diapers.
Last October, we decided to start premarital counseling because we wanted to go into a marriage with a strong foundation. One of his old Ravens’ teammates, Torrey Smith, had gone through the premarital counseling process, and he and his wife suggested we try it.
Even though counseling has a certain stigma among both men and women — especially in the African-American community — Ray and I wanted to work toward building better communication between us. I know he wanted to face a lot of things that he went through in his childhood, like not having his father around. Because he didn’t have that example, a lot of the times we would bicker over little things and I would tell him that this isn’t how a man is supposed to act. At the time he wasn’t mature enough to know that, and I wanted to be able to voice my feelings better.
We started learning a lot about each other, like the fact that I like to talk things out immediately, but I learned that when he gets in a funk, he needs to have time alone. We were learning how to give each other space.
Before that night in Atlantic City, I would have characterized our relationship as going pretty well. I’d finally graduated college in December with my bachelor’s in communications. It seemed like we were finally moving towards all the things we wanted in life.
SOURCE: Janay Rice, as told to Jemele Hill