(BALTIMORE) — Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice won his appeal against the National Football League on Friday, overturning his indefinite suspension for striking his then-fiancée in the elevator of an Atlantic City, N.J. hotel in February.
Rice was initially suspended for two games, but when video from within the elevator surfaced publicly in September, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made the suspension indefinite. Shortly thereafter, the Baltimore Ravens released Rice from his contract.
A statement put out by the NFL Players Association on Rice’s behalf called the decision “a victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent.”
“We take no pleasure in seeing a decision that confirms what we have been saying about the Commissioner’s office acting arbitrarily,” the statement continues, “the only remaining action is for NFL owners to embrace a fair process with a neutral arbitrator in all cases.”
The NFL released a statement Friday saying that the league would respect the judge’s decision. With the suspension overturned, the NFL said that Rice was “eligible to play upon signing a new contract.”
Judge Barbara Jones heard the appeal and said in her decision that “the sole issue in this matter is whether what Rice told the Commissioner and other League representatives about the assault at their June 16, 2014 meeting was ‘a starkly different sequence of events’ than what was captured on the ‘inside the elevator’ video.” Jones was only charged with determining the validity of the suspension, not Rice’s actions on the night in question.
Rice had argued that by extending the suspension, Goodell had unfairly punished him twice for the same incident.
Jones said in her decision that because the story Rice told at the June meeting was not significantly different, “the imposition of a second suspension based upon the same incident, and the same known facts about that incident, was arbitrary.”
“I do not doubt that viewing the video in September evoked horror in Commissioner Goodell as it did with the public,” Jones said, “but this does not change the fact that Rice did not lie or mislead the NFL at the June 16 meeting.”
Jones notes that, had Goodell imposed an indefinite suspension in the first place, “an arbitrator would be hard pressed to find that the Commissioner had abused his discretion,” but by implementing a shorter suspension and than extending it, he had unfairly imposed two punishments based on the same incident and the same information about that incident.
Jones did mandate that the other aspects of the initial punishment — continued use of counseling and other professional services — still stand.
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