Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has won his appeal of an indefinite suspension and has been reinstated to the NFL.The NFL has said they will honor the decision handed down by Judge Jones.
Rice is now eligible to sign with any NFL team.
"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 NFLPA on Friday. "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."
Former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones, who heard Rice's appeal earlier this month, concluded in her decision, which was obtained by ESPN, that Rice did not lie to or mislead NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"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' decision stated.
Regardless of how the Rice situation would have been resolved, there would have been no other conclusion to reach than Goodell having completely bungled this whole thing. Let's say, for sake of argument, that Rice's June interview with the Commissioner was "ambiguous" and indeed Goodell hadn't seen the in-elevator video of Rice delivering a vicious left hook to the face of his then fiancee. It had at least been confirmed that the league office did see video footage of Rice dragging his unconscious fiancee out of the elevator. It was also an established fact that both parties (Ray and Janay) admitted to an altercation inside the elevator. Armed with all that evidence and knowledge, what was "ambiguous" about what actually happened inside that elevator? Ultimately, I believe Goodell made the initial ruling of a mere two-game suspension due in large part to Mrs. Rice pleading for leniency for her husband, regardless of what he ascertained to that point.
Upon TMZ releasing in-elevator video footage this past September, Goodell felt immense pressure to hand down a more severe punishment to Rice given the shocking nature of the punch. Because of said backlash, the Ravens also acted swiftly in that they terminated Rice's contract that very day. Given Judge Jones' decision, Goodell would have been better off weathering the short-term P.R. storm and thus standing by his original ruling. Chances would have been virtually nil that another NFL team would have signed Rice to a free agent contract so soon after what the public had witnessed. By the end of the 2014 season, the whole Rice saga would have likely been forgotten by most NFL fans with some even assuming his suspension was still in effect.
From a football standpoint, I find it difficult to believe that not one of the 32 NFL teams will take chance on Rice. While Rice in 2013 had statistically his worst season of his 6-year career, he'll only be 28-years old in 2015. That, and there were scouts who felt Rice regained his old form while playing in the 2014 preseason. The team which signs Rice will, at least at the outset, endure backlash from some fans, which is to be expected. There will also be the obligatory "cause for concern" statement from corporate sponsors which will emphasize their "close observation" of the situation. But once Rice shows he's regained his old form as well as avoiding additional off-field indiscretions, the outrage will die down significantly.
Bottom line is I believe Rice will recover from this saga. The question now is will Commissioner Goodell?