-- 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.
RIDING BACK from Atlantic City to our house in Baltimore County, I still felt like I was in a fog. My mom had been babysitting Rayven, so she was there when we arrived. She knew we had been arrested, but she didn't know exactly why. When we came in, she tried to talk to me, but I told her I didn't want to go there yet.
Ray pulled her aside to tell her what happened, and when he did, I left the room. We separated in the house for most of the day. Ray was in tears, and I let him have his time.
Later, my mother asked me privately did this ever happen before. I understood why she asked, but I was livid -- probably because I was embarrassed. She told me she was not going to allow me to be in a situation like this. She said she wasn't going to tolerate that from either one of us, and that I needed to make a decision about whether I was able to move past it. I just sat there and let her speak because I had no words. She wasn't saying anything wrong. But I was still processing everything.
Ray accepted responsibility from the moment we left the police station but even though my parents have always loved Ray, they made it clear their daughter would be treated right.
At first, I was very angry, and I didn't know what to say. This came out of nowhere. Nothing like this had ever happened before. I knew it wasn't him.
But as angry as I was, I knew it was something that we could move on from because I know Ray. I thought about our daughter. When she comes in the room, it's like nothing is going on. We knew it was definitely going to take work, and we knew we had to be by each other's side. I just needed to get away from him for a little while, and spend a few hours taking my space to get my thoughts together.
I convinced myself that this was all behind me. The next day, I finally felt like I was coming out of that fog.
That's when Ray told me, "We've got to get ready for this to be on the ticker."
WE KNEW it was a possibility that some video would come out. We definitely feared it.
The day after everything happened, we met with Ray's manager and the lawyers. They all warned us it could come out and told us it was something they couldn't control, though they would try. They told us to be prepared for it.
News of our arrests broke the next day, February 16. The first video followed on February 19 and no, we weren't prepared. I was sick to my stomach. I just broke down in tears.
I said to him, "I don't think I should have seen that."
He said, "me either."
The video didn't make me rethink our relationship, but I did want more of an explanation from him. I asked him why he left me on the floor like that. I asked him how he felt when he saw that I was unconscious. He told me he was in shock. I asked him what happened when we got out of the elevator. He told me he was terrified because security was there. I asked him how he felt seeing me like that. He said he was thinking, "What did I just do?" I didn't watch the video again.
I knew that every time I went online, I was going to see a picture of it, a clip of it, something. So I stopped searching for anything. If I saw Ray on his phone for too long, I'd ask him what he was looking at and tell him to stop searching for stories about it.
The first two weeks after the video came out, we only left the house to take Rayven to school. We watched kid channels all day on our TVs, even when Rayven wasn't there. I just had to remember the things I saw in my parents' marriage; be strong when your partner is weak.
Although our lives weren't back to normal, we didn't want that to stop our marriage plans. We went to Pro Athletes Outreach (PAO), a Christian counseling conference for professional athletes in San Diego, and on the flight home we talked about having a small wedding in March, then a big wedding in June. This was something Ray wanted to do from the moment we were engaged, but I wanted a big wedding. Finally we agreed that having something private and intimate would be great for us and our families.
We were married March 28, the day after he was indicted for aggravated assault. We didn't choose that day because of the indictment. It just happened to be a Friday and a time when our families could attend our wedding without having to interrupt their work schedules. I didn't understand why that was suspicious to some people. We'd been together seven years and had been engaged for two. What happened that night wasn't going to change the fact that we were going to get married.
A couple months later came the press conference. The Ravens just said it was something that they felt we should do. I thought it would be good for people to see Ray publicly taking ownership for what he did. I thought it also might help humanize us. The only images out there of us were from that video. I wanted everyone to see who we really are and to understand that I have a voice for myself.
The day of the press conference, May 23, I was anxious. I didn't know if the timing was right. With the legal process still going, I was worried about saying too much -- or not enough. I knew we weren't going to take questions, so while that was a little awkward, it made it easier. I don't think we were ready to answer questions. I just wanted to say what I had to say and leave.
Looking out over the media, I became angry, seeing all the people who had been covering this and adding to the story. I wanted to tell everyone what was really on my mind. When it was my turn to speak, I said I regretted my role in the incident. I know some people disagreed with me publicly apologizing. I'm not saying that what Ray did wasn't wrong. He and I both know it was wrong. It's been made clear to him that it was wrong. But at the same time, who am I to put my hands on somebody? I had already apologized to Ray, and I felt that I should take responsibility for what I did. Even though this followed the Ravens' suggested script, I owned my words.
I also wanted to show people that I was supportive of Ray just like I'd always been. At that point, I felt very optimistic that this would soon be over. The video already was out there. OTAs were beginning. We were getting back to somewhat of a normal life. Ray was accepted into the pretrial diversion program that, once completed, would result in the dismissal of his charge. If anyone knows me they know, I never have and never will be with Ray because of what he can do for me. I stuck with Ray because I truly love him.
Our relationship at that point was great, probably better than it had been in a long time. We'd grown closer and we started going out in public more. People would come up to us, and of course, we were afraid of what they might say. But we also heard a lot of support, which we were extremely grateful for. It was kind of dying down in the media, too.
We knew we had to meet with commissioner Roger Goodell on June 16. We were both nervous and scared because it felt like we were going to the principal's office.
Ray told the commissioner, and his colleagues, everything that happened. There was no reason to lie because we knew that there was a video and we assumed the NFL knew what was in it, even though we didn't know whether or not they saw it.
They asked Ray how long we had been in counseling and if we were going to continue. When Ray mentioned that we were drinking that night, the commissioner asked if that was something we were working on, too. They didn't ask too many questions. They just wanted Ray to explain everything that went on that night.
I really didn't think they would ask me any questions, but I was asked one. I was surprised I was asked anything at all. One of the NFL executives asked me how I felt about everything. And I broke down in tears. I could hardly get a word out. I just told him that I was ready for this to be over.
They told us they would try to move the process along, so we would find out about Ray's suspension soon. We felt like a weight had been lifted. Mr. Goodell seemed to be a really reasonable and caring guy and wanted to make sure other people would learn from our mistake. He wanted to confirm that alcohol was a factor. He actually seemed to care about the facts and wanted to make sure that we would help other people learn from this experience.
The Ravens were just as excited as we were about how the meeting went. They told Ray they were happy that he was being honest. We saw them as a support system. During this, Ray always said, "At least I know I've got the Ravens on my side."
So I wasn't surprised when Commissioner Goodell suspended Ray for two games. In fact, I expected it. It was somewhat consistent with how he disciplined other players.
I don't know what else people wanted. I guess they thought Ray deserved to be suspended for more games because of the shocking visual. In his six years in the NFL, Ray had never been in the media for anything negative. He was known for his success on the field, and works in the community. Maybe criticism of the suspension was another way for people to just keep picking at him or the situation or what.
When training camp started, I was so relieved when Ray went to practice and the fans cheered for him. I knew there was more video from inside the elevator, but I tried to keep a positive mindset. I didn't want to keep on thinking about it, because if I did, I wouldn't be able to get through the day.
I didn't think anything else was going to happen.
IT WAS six o'clock in the morning on September 8, nearly seven months after the incident. Ray's manager was the first one to call. I heard Ray on the phone, and based off the way he responded, I thought somebody had died.
When he got off the phone, he told me the whole video had been released. I just went into a shell. I started crying. We knew it was going to be another media storm. We didn't know what to do.
I sent out a text to everybody close to me: "The video's out. I would ask you not to watch it." I know some of them probably did. But I refused to.
I was over this, and I didn't need the visual. How was seeing it going to help me? I knew that would only bring me back there. After Ray watched it, I asked him not to look at it again, because I knew it was only the devil trying to come in and ruin how far we've come. I refused to go backwards.
Later in the afternoon, the Ravens called and released Ray. Maybe 10 minutes after that, we found out that he was indefinitely suspended by the NFL.
I was extremely surprised and angry that the Ravens released him, because they know him. They were our family, but I felt like the Ravens completely disregarded the past six years with him. Anytime the Ravens needed someone for a community event, Ray was their man. It seemed like a knee-jerk reaction for publicity reasons. He was very close to Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome. Ozzie would always say, "Ray's my guy," because Ray was Ozzie's pick. I know that Bisciotti loves Ray, even to this day.
We have no guarantees about Ray's future in football, but I know that this experience has made us far more aware of what's really important and how fortunate we are. We saw the impact of domestic violence on families from the time we spent last year at House of Ruth, a domestic violence center in Baltimore, serving holiday meals to women and their families.
Thinking back about the children there, made me think about what I am going to say to my own daughter about this. We'll tell her when we feel the time is right, and when she'll be able to understand it. I don't know exactly what I'll say, but we'll be honest with her. I will obviously tell her that it was wrong, and it's not something that you allow and to respect herself foremost, just like I was told as a child. But I'll also tell her that people make mistakes and you have to learn from them.
I still find it hard to accept being called a "victim." I know there are so many different opinions out there about me -- that I'm weak, that I'm making excuses and covering up abuse -- and that some people question my motives for staying with Ray.
However, I'm a strong woman and I come from a strong family. Never in my life have I seen abuse, nor have I seen any woman in my family physically abused. I have always been taught to respect myself and to never allow myself to be disrespected, especially by a man. Growing up, my father used to always tell my sister and I, "We don't need a man to make us, if anything it's the man who needs us."
No matter how long we have known each other and no matter what the circumstance is, Ray understands that violent behavior like this, even one time, is never acceptable. Ray told the truth and has fully accepted responsibility for his actions, which allowed us to work together at improving ourselves and get to the better place we are today.
I've learned a lot about myself. I've realized how strong I am. People ask me how I've gotten through this and I honestly cannot put it into words. I have grown closer to God. My faith has gotten me through each day. It's been hard accepting the fact that God chose us for this, but at the same time it's put us in the position to help others. We know our incident led to very important discussions to hashtags of "why I stayed" and "why I left." If it took our situation becoming headline news to show domestic violence is happening in this country, that's a positive.
I hope when people read this they realize that we're real. I want people to know how much we love each other and how far we've come.
Everyone has their own story, this is mine.