Ray Rice has won his appeal and will be reinstated as a player. The news was first reported by NFL.com reporter Ian Rapoport.
In a 17-page statement on the decision, first obtained by ESPN's Don Van Natta Jr., Judge Barbara S. Jones states:
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.
Background: When TMZ released the now-infamous surveillance tape of Ray Rice knocking his then-fianceé, now-wife, Janay Rice, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell claimed it showed an incident that appeared different, and more severe, than the one described to him by the running back in a meeting earlier this year. After the video became public, Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely and he was cut by the Ravens.
Today's decision: The key is that the judge ruled that Rice, in his initial meeting with Goodell, told the truth.
U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones has, to an extent, disproven Goodell's contention that he increased the suspension from two days to indefinite because he wasn't previosuly aware of the severity of the incident. The judge's main job was to decide if the NFL overstepped its authority in changing the duration of the suspension after the video became public.
"I made an inexcusable mistake and accept full responsibility for my actions," Rice said in a statement released through the union. "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."
According to the AP, Judge Jones wrote in her decision:
Because Rice did not mislead the commissioner and because there were no new facts on which the commissioner could base his increased suspension, I find that the imposition of the indefinite suspension was arbitrary. I therefore vacate the second penalty imposed on Rice. The provisions of the first discipline — those regarding making continued use of counseling and other professional services, having no further involvement with law enforcement, and not committing any additional violations of league policies_still stand.
Rice maintains he described the incident accurately in his first meeting with Goodell. Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome reportedly corroborated Rice's story. Still, after that meeting, he was only suspended for two games. It was a controversial move that called into question the league's inconsistent manner of doling out suspensions, and led to an overhaul of the league's Personal Conduct Policy.
The NFLPA argued to a retired judge that Rice was punished twice for the same incident. Football pundits have suggested Goodell handed Rice the indefinite suspension as a way to repair his and the league's own image in the wake of the video's release. The NFLPA's argument that Goodell was fully informed on the situation prior to its release would be consistent with that argument.
"This decision is a victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent," the NFLPA said in a statement. "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."
A reinstatement to the league does not mean Rice will play in the NFL again immediately, soon, or even ever.
A reinstatement would allow a team to sign him, however, that's highly unlikely to happen this season, partially because the league has been hit by a series of player conduct scandals and the attention brought on Rice's new team would be a distraction. There are a few teams in the league, however, who could probably use some depth on their running back roster. But at nearly 28 years old, Rice's skill as a player dropped off significantly in 2013.
The NFLPA has not announced how they will proceed if the arbitrator does not rule for reinstatement.
Lindsey Adler is a sports reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Lindsey Adler at email@example.com.
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