The Root: Janay Rice & Mama Candy Are Living In Denial

The Today Show's Matt Lauer interviews Janay Rice and her mother, Candy Palmer.


On the heels of a tell-all interview with ESPN published Friday, in which Janay Rice spoke for the first time about the night her then-fiance, Ray Rice, knocked her unconscious in an elevator, Janay and her mother, Candy Palmer, sat for a two-part interview with the Today show’s Matt Lauer yesterday morning and today. (Ray Rice put in an appearance toward the end.)

The interviews are an attempt to redeem Ray Rice, especially now that he is eligible to play in the NFL again. There’s never been a question about his talent, but in the court of public opinion, he’s persona non grata, a public relations nightmare.

The Rices and Mama Candy are doing their best to revive Ray’s dream. There’s a part of me that appreciates the all-hands-on-deck effort here: the wife pleading for her husband’s redemption, the stern and protective mother-in-law vouching for her daughter’s version of events, and Ray’s near-begging humility. These are people who really care about one another. But they are also people who are in deep denial, and it would take a willful suspension of common sense to buy into their revisionist version of events.

I’ll skip what Janay told Lauer, since most of it was covered in the ESPN interview, and get right to Mama Candy. I get why Mom has been trotted out for the national stage. Mothers get the benefit of the doubt for being sensible and pulled together. And by showing her support for her daughter while in fired-up, protective mode, Mama Candy lets us know that someone seems to have Janay Rice’s back—so, you know, we can all stop being so concerned about Janay because Mom is there and holding things down.

Just as Janay did in her ESPN interview, Mama Candy reiterates that this punch was a one-and-done occurrence. “There is no next time,” she says adamantly. She adds that she didn’t raise “a young woman to be an abused woman.”

Um, OK.

The truth of the matter is, Mom knows only what her daughter tells her. Mom isn’t with the couple every day. So her denial about her daughter having been hit more than once, and her assurance that it won’t happen again, is unreliable. No matter how much Mom and Janay may deny it, I’m unconvinced that the very first time Ray Rice hit Janay just so happened to be a knockout blow caught on camera. You’re trying to tell me that there was no slapping, no spitting, in the seven years they were together before this, but this one time on Valentine’s Day weekend, it just happened, with no buildup whatsoever?

And while Mama Candy gets assertive with Lauer about what type of daughter she raised, I just want to tap her on the shoulder and ask, “But ma’am, did you see the tape?” I’ll never blame the mother’s parenting for what happened to Janay Rice. That responsibility rests solely on Ray, who, when he finally shows up in the interview, completely takes the blame. (“My wife is an angel,” he says. “She can do no wrong.”) But the woman Mama Candy raised is, in fact, an abused woman. There’s video footage of her being knocked out by her then-fiance.


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The Root: 7 (Outrageous) Details from Janay Rice's ESPN Tell-All Interview


Janet Rice with husband former Raven's running back Ray Rice.

“What the hell is Janay Palmer thinking?”

It was the question asked by nearly everyone who saw “that video,” the one that clearly showed Palmer’s then-fiance, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, knocking her unconscious on an elevator, then dragging her limp body off it. She’d stayed with Rice after that, married him even. And she publicly apologized at a press conference and then publicly defended him when he was dropped by his team and indefinitely suspended by the NFL.

For domestic violence survivors it was textbook behavior. For those who had never been abused, it was baffling. Was she doing it for the money? Did she grow up in an abusive home and that this was normal? Was she a “classic victim” of domestic violence? How will she explain staying to her daughter someday?

These were just the start of the questions, and finally Janay Rice has publicly answered them (and more) in an interview with ESPN’s Jemele Hill, which was published on Nov. 28, preceding a much-hyped two-part TV interview with Today’s Matt Lauer, which airs Monday and Tuesday mornings this week.

There is no question about the timing of these print and TV interviews. On Friday, Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension from the NFL was overturned, making him eligible to play again. Rice—and his wife—are on a de facto apology tour to clean up Rice’s image and make him less of a PR nightmare to potentially interested NFL teams.

Janay Rice’s account to Hill doesn’t quite do the job in this sense, though she does try hard—too hard even. Many parts of her interview come across as too sanitized, too “handled” by a crisis manager that taught Janay Rice how to spin a story instead of telling it plain.

Janay Rice earnestly talks about her husband’s community service and the amount of counseling they received, She conveniently doesn’t recall what they fought over on the night that she was knocked out and says she was completely uninjured after receiving that blow to the face that left her unconscious. In fact, Janay Rice says she felt, “perfectly fine.” She might as well have said, “See my husband’s not a bad person, the punch didn’t even hurt.”

But even the neat version of Janay Rice’s story can’t cover up what she ultimately is: a domestic violence victim--though she doesn’t consider herself one--blaming herself and defending her abuser. She repeatedly talks about her bad attitude on the day she was knocked unconscious. She describes how she agitated Ray Rice by reaching for his phone and that’s why he spit on her, as if that is a reasonable response. She claims she’s never experienced domestic violence before (or since), but it took only hours for her to forgive her man, who she also never considered leaving.

Here are the top revelations from Janay Rice’s ESPN interview:

She doesn’t remember much.

Janay Rice: “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 cops tried to tell me what happened and I refused to believe them .... There were no marks on my face or body, and I felt perfectly fine.”

She forgave him the next day.

“Ray accepted responsibility from the moment we left the police station .... 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.”

She never thought twice about marrying Ray Rice.

“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.

“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.”


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