Ravens fans still loyal to Ray Rice

Ravens fanEvan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports

BALTIMORE -- She stood between two cars beneath an underpass outside of M&T Bank Stadium, but Christina Burke wasn't hiding early Thursday evening -- far from it. 

The Bel Air, Maryland, resident and Baltimore Ravens season-ticket holder displayed the Ray Rice jersey she wore not so much as a matter of pride but as a show of her belief in fairness and redemption.

"I still support Ray Rice," Burke said at a tailgate outside of the stadium. "I just don't believe one action or mistake should define a person."

The home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers is the Ravens' first game since Rice was released by the team and then suspended indefinitely by the NFL after video was released Monday of him striking his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino elevator in February. Rice had been serving a two-game suspension for the incident, which was scheduled to end Friday, at the time of the video's release.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has come under intense fire for his handling of the situation.

A handful of Ravens fans told ESPN.com that they believe Rice was not treated fairly since nothing new about the case emerged this week except the video, which sent shockwaves from Capitol Hill to California.

Sandra Mattocks, a Ravens season-ticket holder, said Rice has been condemned and further punished only because of the public outcry that the video stirred.

"I have a problem with that," said Mattocks, who lives in Essex, Maryland. "They knew exactly what the facts where when they made [Rice's initial] punishment. I'm very disappointed with the NFL and the Ravens for their treatment of Ray Rice."

Burke and Mattocks both took issue with the Ravens abruptly releasing Rice and the NFL suspending him indefinitely since it had long been in the police report that Rice punched Palmer. Mattocks said Rice should have been suspended six games at most since the policy that the NFL enacted after initially punishing Rice mandates a six-game suspension for first-time offenders of domestic abuse.

Burke echoed similar sentiments.

"People were so quick to hang him out to dry," she said. "People saw the video, but did they get new evidence?"

Bobby Kemp, a longtime season-ticket holder, said he also had a problem with how so many were quick to judge Rice.

"The Man above is the only one who's perfect," said Kemp, who lives in Baltimore County.

Some who wore Rice jerseys were getting heckles, while others received high-fives.

"You support a wife-beater!" one female fan yelled at male fan wearing a No. 27 about 90 minutes before kickoff.

Outside of at least one entrance, a memo explained the "Ray Rice Jersey Exchange" policy, aimed at "particularly families, women and children" who wish to exchange a Rice jersey for that of another Ravens player. The Ravens are no longer selling Rice jerseys, but at least one independent vendor had some Rice action figurines on sale next to his collection of vintage Baltimore Colts wares.

Paul Kilduff, 65, put two pieces of duct tape over the letters "Ray R" on the back of his faded shirt so that it read "Be Nice" instead of "Ray Rice." But the tape kept falling off, so he took off the jersey, then put it back on without the tape.

"Everybody deserves a second chance," he said, a refrain heard often in the parking lot.

Kemp said he attended Severna Park High School with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and that he thought the organization could have handled the situation better.

"I'm not going to say disappointed. I just thought it was sad they put (coach) John Harbaugh out there to speak first," Kemp said of the Ravens' response to the Rice situation. "You've just got to be positive and support the team."

Steve Barnett, another longtime Ravens season-ticket holder, said he also has issues with how Rice has been treated since the release of the video. But, from his seat on a bench outside of M&T Bank Stadium, he said the controversy has not taken away from tonight's game.

"It's still Steelers-Ravens," said Barnett, who lives in nearby Glen Burnie. "That's why they call it a team. One man don't make a difference. We'll miss [Rice] but we'll be good. The team will still play hard."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.