Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice won his appeal Friday against the NFL and has been reinstated, making him eligible to resume his pro football career.
Rice was suspended indefinitely by the NFL on Sept. 8 after a video was posted showing him knocking out his then-fiancee in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino in February.
Former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones, who heard Rice's appeal Nov. 5-6 at her Manhattan office, ruled that Rice did not lie to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell during a disciplinary hearing in June, when he told Goodell he had hit Janay Palmer in the elevator, rendering her unconscious. Goodell had initially suspended Rice two games but then indefinitely suspended the running back after the video showing him striking her was posted on TMZ Sports. Rice and Palmer are now married.
Goodell said in a broadcast interview after the video was shown that Rice had misled him during the disciplinary hearing, and that the video constituted new evidence that gave him the authority to suspend Rice indefinitely. Jones said that argument did not hold up, and that Goodell overstepped his authority.
"The NFL argues that Commissioner Goodell was misled when he disciplined Rice the first time," Jones wrote in her decision. "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."
Rice, in a statement released through the NFLPA, thanked Jones, as well as those closest to him, and took responsibility for the incident.
"I would like to thank Judge Barbara Jones, the NFL Players Association, my attorneys, agents, advisers, family, friends and fans -- but most importantly, my wife Janay. 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."
Rice is now eligible to sign with any NFL team but made no mention about returning to the NFL in his statement. It is uncertain whether any team will be interested in signing him for the remainder of the regular season, which concludes the final week of December.
In her decision, Jones wrote that the NFL Players Association, which represented Rice at the hearing, "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."
Jones also said Rice, 27, had been in possession of the video that was eventually posted on TMZ, having received it during the discovery phase of an initial criminal prosecution of his case. However, Jones said the NFL never asked Rice for the video.
Rice avoided jail time by entering a diversionary program in which he was placed on probation and underwent mandatory counseling. The Associated Press reported in September that a copy of the video was sent anonymously to the NFL office in April, but the league has denied it received a copy. Former FBI director Robert Mueller was named by Goodell to conduct an investigation into how all materials were gathered in Rice's case. The report will be made public once it has been completed.
The NFL accepted Jones' decision and said that Rice can return to the field if he signs a contract.
"We respect Judge Jones' decision to reinstate Ray Rice from his indefinite suspension for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy in an incident of domestic violence," league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. "Based on Judge Jones' decision, he will be eligible to play upon signing a new contract."
Rice has not played in a regular-season game since the end of last season. He was with the Ravens in training camp but was released by the team just hours after the video showing him hitting Palmer was posted.