BALTIMORE, November 28, 2014 — Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has won his federal court appeal of an NFL indefinite suspension after a video showed him knocking out his then-fiancée was released publicly. According to ESPN, Rice has been reinstated to the NFL and is now eligible to sign with any team that will have him. The big money question is, whether a playoff bound team will want this formidable impact player lining up to take a new team to the Super Bowl.
The former Raven player’s indefinite suspension was levied on September 8 by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. This second punishment was given to Rice after he had originally been suspended July 24 for two games at the beginning of the regular season.
ESPN reported that U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones, who heard the appeal, reached the conclusion that supported the football player’s contention that he had not lied or mislead the NFL. The NFL, according to ESPN will not pursue any further legal action against Rice and, according to a league spokesman said, “We, of course, accept the ruling as binding.”
The proverbial crap hit the fan after TMZ Sports released a video which showed Rice engaging in an argument with his then fiancé, now wife; Janay in a casino elevator. In the same video he then cold cocks her in the side of the head, knocking her unconscious. The video set off a firestorm of controversy and NFL commissioner Goodell was targeted with accusations of a cover up concerning the video. He denied having any knowledge of the video’s existence.
Eventually, the commissioner appeared to submit to public pressure and made the decision to indefinitely suspend Rice under the alleged pretext of obtaining new information. The decision against Rice implied that the former Raven player somehow misled his former team officials as well as commissioner Goodell.
U.S. District Judge Jones supported Rice’s contention of being punished twice for the same conduct and that he had not misled anyone. In her ruling she stated, “In so holding, 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.”
It may be the very arbitrary nature of the commissioner’s decision that could still come back to bite him and other league officials in the butt. Many supporters for stronger action by the NFL on domestic violence issues have weighed in on the near total obliviousness shown beforehand by the NFL taking this seriously. Rice, by many published accounts was not the first who engaged in off field domestic violent behavior toward a spouse or girl friend.
In fact according to NBC News, there were a dozen players who had previous domestic violence arrests and were still on the gridiron at the beginning of the NFL season. The list included:
- Seattle Seahawks: Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams
- San Francisco 49ers: Ray McDonald and Chris Cook
- Chicago Bears: Brandon Marshall and Santonio Holmes
- Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant
- Indianapolis Colts: Erik Walden
- Carolina Panthers: Greg Hardy
- Cleveland Browns: Donte Whitner
- Arizona Cardinals: Frostee Rucker, and
- Miami Dolphins: Randy Starks
Each of the players had been arrested for either domestic violence or charges related to that conduct since 2005, based upon a player arrests USA Today database.
What this demonstrates is the inconsistent treatment for player conduct which could be conceived as a slap on the wrist and apparently nothing more. But this approach by the commissioner’s office although called into question by the media as well as by supporters of victims of domestic violence, still did not remedy the treatment meted out against Rice. It is the very nature of the hodgepodge inconsistent manner undertaken by Goodell that calls into question not if Rice did it, but was the penalty fairly administered considering Goodell’s previous punishment for Rice.
Judge Jones addressed this and ruled, “”[T]he 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.“
Now that the legal deck has been cleared for Rice, will the court of public opinion be willing to give the three-time Pro Bowler a second chance. Rice is only 27, and he stay may do for a new team what he did for the Ravens in helping them win Super Bowl XLVII.