Updated — Sept. 17, 4:50 p.m. ET
Who is Ray Rice?
Ray Rice is a seventh-year NFL running back formerly with the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens drafted Rice, who played college football at Rutgers University, in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft. As a pro, Rice has run for more than 6,000 yards and scored 43 touchdowns.
On Feb. 15, Rice got into an altercation with Janay Rice, his then-fiancée, while in a casino elevator in Atlantic City, New Jersey, allegedly knocking her unconscious. TMZ published a video showing Ray Rice dragging Janay Rice's body out of an elevator.
On July 24, Rice was suspended without pay for two games by the NFL under the league's personal conduct policy and fined an additional $235,294.
On Sept. 8, the NFL indefinitely suspended Rice after TMZ published the full video showing Ray Rice punching Janay Rice and dragging her out of the casino elevator. Just before the league announced Rice's indefinite suspension, the Ravens terminated his contract.
On Sept. 16, the NFL Players Association filed an appeal of the indefinite suspension on behalf of Ray Rice.
Who is Roger Goodell?
Roger Goodell is the NFL Commissioner. He is entering his eighth season as the league's top boss.
On Aug. 28, Goodell sent a letter to all NFL owners admitting that he did not get the Rice suspension right. He also issued a tougher domestic violence policy that calls for a six-game suspension for the first offense and "banishment from the NFL" for the second.
On Sept. 8, the NFL announced that Goodell was suspending Rice based on the video published by TMZ, which the commissioner said he had not seen until that week.
On Sept. 12, Goodell sent the NFL Players Association a letter informing the players' union why the league was changing its ruling against Rice:
"This video shows a starkly different sequence of events from what you and your representatives stated when [Ray Rice and the NFL] met on June 16," Goodell wrote, "and is important new information that warrants reconsideration of the discipline imposed on [Rice] in July."
"Based on this new information, I have concluded that the discipline imposed upon you in July was insufficient under all the circumstances and have determined instead to impose an indefinite suspension."
Goodell and the league have been widely criticized for their handling of the Ray Rice situation. The National Organization of Women has called for the commissioner to resign. Anheuser-Busch, the official beer sponsor of the NFL since 2011 which has a $1.2 billion deal with the league, said in a statement, "We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season."
At the same time, Goodell is also receiving support from NFL owners including Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. New York Giants co-owner John Mara said in a statement that Goodell's job is not in jeopardy.
What happens next?
The NFL Players Association formally filed an appeal Tuesday of Rice's indefinite suspension from the league.
The appeal is "based on supporting facts that reveal a lack of a fair and impartial process, including the role of the office of the Commissioner of the NFL," the NFLPA said in a statement. "We have asked that a neutral and jointly selected arbitrator hear this case as the Commissioner and his staff will be essential witnesses in the proceeding and thus cannot serve as impartial arbitrators."
Roger Goodell will appoint an arbitrator to hear the case. Goodell has wide discretion based on the collective bargaining agreement to choose the arbitration officer — he could appoint himself — and the NFLPA has the right to object and insist that the officer be a neutral third party.
It is likely that given the vast public criticism of Goodell's handling of the Ray Rice situation to date — not to mention that Goodell will likely provide witness testimony — that Goodell will oblige the union's request for an independent arbitrator.
"I think it is more likely that the arbitrator will be someone agreed to by the parties to the grievance, not unilaterally chosen by Goodell," says Darren Heitner, sports attorney and Forbes contributor.
According to the collective bargaining agreement, a hearing will be scheduled within ten days following the filing of an appeal.
It could take weeks, maybe months, for a final decision to be reached.
What is Ray Rice arguing?
Ray Rice contends that he is being punished twice for the same infraction: the first time when he was suspended two games, and the second time when he was suspended indefinitely.
Rice will base his defense on Article 46(4) of the collective bargaining agreement that states the commissioner and a team will not both discipline a player for the same act.
Since the NFL changed its domestic abuse policy after Rice's initial punishment, he might also argue that if the league wanted to up his punishment, it should have been raised to a six-game suspension, rather than indefinite suspension.
"Even if one were to conclude that the league could increase the suspension upon viewing the video, it's still hard to fathom legally how the suspension could exceed six games under the commissioner's own new rule," says sports law professor and lawyer Marc Edelman.
So this a case of "double jeopardy" for Rice?
Ray Rice has not been charged with a crime, so double jeopardy doesn't technically apply here.
However, if Rice can prove that the video did not reveal any new information beyond what he said during his meeting with Goodell, Rice can say that he was given two punishments for the same act.
This might not be enough to get the commissioner's decision overturned by an arbitrator, though.
"The NFL is prosecutor, judge, jury, and appellate court — it's difficult to get a decision changed," says Alan Milstein, the attorney who represented running back Maurice Clarett in a 2003 antitrust lawsuit against the NFL over its eligibility restriction.
What is the NFL's argument?
The NFL will say that given the new information that came to light when TMZ published the full video and the public outcry that followed, it was acting within its boundaries to suspend Rice indefinitely given how detrimental Rice's conduct has been to the league.
Goodell contends that Rice gave him a different description of what happened in the casino elevator during their meeting than what he ultimately saw in the video. Goodell has also insisted that he did not see the full video until TMZ published it. However, Rice could say that he didn't describe the video exactly as it appears because Goodell didn't ask him to, according to Heitner.
"A statement and an audio-visual work will never completely match up," Heitner says. "It is impossible to completely describe a scene in words the same way that a visual work tells a story."
"It could have been the case that Roger Goodell simply was satisfied with Rice's statement and did not prod by asking in-depth questions," Heitner says. "Rice's depiction of the events may have been somewhat incomplete, but did the video really provide such a revelation to warrant an increase from two games to an indefinite suspension?"
Fans will be looking for the NFL to provide a clearer picture of what was said between Goodell and Rice and whether NFL officials other than Goodell saw the video.
But if this information comes out during the hearing, the league and the NFLPA may attempt to keep it from the public.
"It is certainly possible that parties to a private arbitration proceeding would choose to keep part, if not all, of the proceedings under seal," Edelman says.
So why hasn’t the NFL suspended Adrian Peterson under the new domestic violence policy for beating his son?
Adrian Peterson was reinstated by the Minnesota Vikings on Monday after being indicted and booked on child abuse charges for hitting his 4-year-old son with a switch. And it is unclear what, if any, penalty Peterson may face from the league.
On Wednesday, the Vikings placed Peterson on the exempt-commissioner's permission list, meaning he must stay away from all team activities until his legal issues are resolved.
Everything we know about Peterson's case indicates that he violated the NFL's personal conduct policy and would be subject to a six-game suspension for this first offense. However, the NFL may be waiting to rule on Peterson until the legal case against him is resolved.
The league took this exact stance this week involving Carolina Panthers' defensive end Greg Hardy, but on Wednesday the team announced it would remove Hardy from its roster until the his domestic abuse case is resolved. Hardy was convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, but he is appealing the verdict. There is a jury trial scheduled for November to hear his case.
The NFL has not responded to BuzzFeed News requests for comment.
What is the NFL doing to address concerns about Rice, Peterson, and similar cases?
On Sept. 15, Goodell announced the creation of a new "social responsibility" team to address issues of domestic violence and sexual assault within the NFL.
The team will be headed by NFL Vice President of Community Affairs Anna Isaacson, along with three other domestic violence and sexual assault advisers: Lisa Friel, former head of the Sex Crimes Prosecution unit in the Manhattan District Attorney's office; Jane Randel, the co-founder of NO MORE, an advocacy group for domestic violence issues; and Rita Smith, a former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
In a staff memo, Goodell said Friel would focus on evaluating alleged domestic violence and sexual assault incidents and would advise the staff on disciplinary matters. Randel and Smith's role would be to develop and implement the NFL's domestic violence/sexual assault policies and to build on training and education programs for players and non-players.
"Our goal is to make a real difference on these and other issues," Goodell wrote in the memo. "We know that we will be judged by our actions and their effectiveness."
If the NFL wins is Rice banned from the NFL for life?
Not necessarily. An upholding of the league's ruling would prevent him from making a living practicing his trade. He could turn around and sue the league citing an antitrust argument.
During his appeal, Rice may argue that he is entitled to a finite suspension whether it's two games, six games, or sixteen games.
"There is not much sympathy for [Rice]," Milstein says. "But it's hard to believe anyone can have their entire career taken away."
Has there ever been an NFL player who came back from an ugly off-the-field incident?
Wide receiver Donte Stallworth was suspended for the entire 2009-10 season after being convicted of driving under the influence vehicular manslaughter. His suspension was lifted after Super Bowl Sunday in 2010. Stallworth played two more seasons in the NFL with Washington and New England.
In 2000, linebacker Ray Lewis was fined $250,000 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstructing justice after originally being charged with murder for a stabbing incident where two people died at a Super Bowl afterparty. Lewis was never suspended by then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Lewis went on to lead the Baltimore Ravens to two Super Bowl championships (2000-01, 2012-13) before retiring in 2013.
The case that closest resembles Rice's is that of quarterback Michael Vick, whose football future was once made uncertain by his own indefinite suspension.
In 2007, Vick was suspended indefinitely by Roger Goodell after Vick admitted to running a dogfighting ring out of his Virginia home.
Vick served 18 months in prison for conspiracy and operating a dogfighting ring.
After his release from prison, Vick's indefinite suspension was lifted by Goodell and the quarterback was conditionally reinstated by the NFL. Goodell wrote in a letter to Vick, "I accept that you are sincere when you say that you want to, and will, turn your life around."
In a statement responding to the commissioner's decision to overturn his suspension, Vick said, "I fully understand that playing football in the NFL is a privilege, not a right, and I am truly thankful for the opportunity I have been given."
Vick signed a two-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009. He would end up spending the next five seasons with the Eagles, before departing Philly for the New York Jets. In 2014, Vick signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Jets and is currently backing up QB Geno Smith in New York.
If Rice wins the appeal will he play football this year?
It's unlikely. Since he was released from the Ravens another team would have to sign him. No team is going to want to deal with that level of distraction — especially because there is no guarantee that Rice will come back and be a starting-caliber running back.
Could Ray Rice still be charged with a crime?
That is also unlikely. His wife has made a statement supporting him, so there is no complaining witness in the case.
"A prosecutor can bring a case against him without a complaining witness — the Atlantic County, New Jersey prosecutor's office would have to do it," Milstein says. "But they don't have an interest. I don't think anyone wants to see a prosecutor do that just because the public went crazy [over the TMZ video.] That's not how justice works in this country."