Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice won the appeal of his indefinite suspension by the NFL on Friday and is eligible to sign immediately with any NFL team.
Former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones heard Rice’s appeal earlier this month and handed down a decision that is independent of the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell. The league initially suspended Rice for two games in connection with a domestic incident in which he struck his then-fiancee in a casino elevator last winter. It extended that to an indefinite suspension and the Ravens cut him when video of him knocking out Janay Palmer, now his wife, was published Sept. 8 by TMZ.
“I would like to thank Judge Barbara Jones, the NFL Players Association, my attorneys, agents, advisors, family, friends and fans — but most importantly, my wife Janay,” Rice said in a statement released by the NFL Players Association. “I made an inexcusable mistake and accept full responsibility for my actions.
“I am thankful that there was a proper appeals process in place to address this issue. I will continue working hard to improve myself and be the best husband, father and friend, while giving back to my community and helping others to learn from my mistakes.”
Jones determined that Rice had not misled the NFL or Goodell when he interviewed him and Janay Rice in the spring, before the second video came out. Her decision is well-grounded, given that Rice was punished twice for the same violation of the personal-conduct policy.
“In this arbitration, the NFL argues that Commissioner Goodell was misled when he disciplined Rice the first time. Because, after careful consideration of all of the evidence, I am not persuaded that Rice lied to, or misled, the NFL at his June interview, I find that the indefinite suspension was an abuse of discretion and must be vacated,” Jones wrote in the decision, which was obtained by ESPN.
“I find that the NFLPA carried its burden of showing that Rice did not mislead the Commissioner at the June 16th meeting, and therefore, that the imposition of a second suspension based on the same incident and the same known facts about the incident, was arbitrary,” Jones also wrote.
“The Commissioner needed to be fair and consistent in his imposition of discipline.
“Moreover, any failure on the part of the League to understand the level of violence was not due to Rice’s description of the event but to the inadequacy of words to convey the seriousness of domestic violence. That the League did not realize the severity of the conduct without a visual record also speaks to their admitted failure in the past to sanction this type of conduct more severely.”
The players’ union said in a statement:
“This decision is a victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent. This union will always stand up and fight for the due process rights of our players. While we take no pleasure in seeing a decision that confirms what we have been saying about the Commissioner’s office acting arbitrarily, we hope that this will bring the NFL owners to the collective bargaining table to fix a broken process. It is clear that this decision should force the NFL to embrace neutral arbitration as part of a necessary due process in all cases. The players thank Judge Barbara Jones for her time and thoroughness in this matter.”
Janay Rice responded to the news in a tweet, expressing gratitude that Rice is free to play again in the NFL.
This week I have something to be thankful for. I'm thankful that my husband will be returning to the nfl #RayRice
— Janay Rice (@JanayRice) November 28, 2014
The situation landed NFL in as much trouble publicly as it did Rice, with many questioning the seriousness with which the NFL takes domestic violence issues, or more generally, if it values its female audience.
Uncertainty still surrounds Rice, though. Will a team sign him with the season about to enter the last month? Can Rice restore his image — both personally and professionally? And will he be compensated for the salary he lost while on indefinite suspension?