On the sidelines at Alabama football practice on Thursday, one visitor looked less like a fan and more like someone who could, if needed, head back into the locker room, gear up and come out ready to go.

Ray Rice looked like what he has always been — an elite athlete, probably still capable at age 32 of carrying a football in the NFL. But he’s not — and that was the reason he was in Tuscaloosa to speak to Alabama football and basketball players about Title IX, gender equity and the issue of domestic violence. Rice is out of professional football because of an incident, perhaps the most notorious one in pro sports in the past several years because it was captured on tape, where he punched and knocked out his fiancée in an Atlantic City casino. Despite his efforts to return, his career never recovered.

No one condones Rice’s actions, to say nothing of glorifying them. The purpose of his visit to UA was not to reflect on his athletic prowess, but to teach that there are things more important than that, and the fame and riches that they can bring. He — like former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who spoke to the team a couple of weeks ago — was present to discuss his mistakes, not his successes. Some people will be uncomfortable about his presence on campus, and their feelings are understandable, but others will consider his attempts to move forward and regard him as a speaker to whom young athletes can relate.

“Well, he’s obviously going to talk about how to treat the opposite sex and having the proper respect for other people,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said at his Thursday press conference. “I think that’s important to relationships. It’s important as a person to be able to do those things in a very respectful manner.”

“I think a lot of the players can relate to (Rice’s) circumstances,” Saban said. “It will be interesting to hear a guy that has had issues that now has turned a corner and has really done everything he can to help other people not have the same problem that he has. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him doing that and we’re certainly glad to have him here.”

In other football-related news on Thursday:

The Crimson Tide practiced outdoors as it entered into game preparation for Duke, UA’s August 31 opponent.

“Duke (is) a really good team,” Saban said. “I mean, they won eight games last year and are very well-coached.They present some issues and problems scheme-wise that we certainly need to work on.”

Two players who were out of practice earlier this week, running back Jerome Ford and freshman defensive lineman Antonio Alfano, were back at practice on Thursday.

Saban said that Alfano had been out because of “personal issues.” Ford sprained an ankle in last Saturday’s scrimmage.

“We’re going to work (Ford) in and see what he can do,” Saban said. “We will try to do more and more each day and see if we can get him back to 100 percent. He had done really well before he was injured, so we plan on him playing in the (Duke) game if he’s healthy enough and the doctors clear him.”

In other positive personnel news, freshman inside linebacker Christian Harris, who is making a bid to start alongside Dylan Moses, was back at full speed after being limited (and wearing a knee brace) since Monday.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt

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