Ray Rice Is Free to Play Professional Football Again

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NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 05: Suspended Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice (R) and his wife Janay Palmer arrive for a hearing on November 5, 2014 in New York City. Rice is fighting his suspension after being caught beating his wife in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February 2014. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Photo: Andrew Burton/2014 Getty Images

Ray Rice is free to play professional football again. On Friday, an arbitrator overturned the NFL’s indefinite suspension of the former Ravens player, having ruled that the league punished him twice for the single offense of knocking out his then-fiancée, Janay Rice, in Atlantic City last February.

For those who have forgotten the details of the Rice scandal: Back in July, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Ray for two games after TMZ published a video of the running back dragging an unconscious Janay out of a casino elevator. In response to complaints about his leniency, Goodell changed the NFL’s policy on players who are charged with domestic abuse. First-time offenders now receive a six-game suspension, and second-time offenders get banned for life. (The new penalty system was not applied to Rice retroactively.)

Then, in September, TMZ released surveillance footage from inside the elevator, which allowed people to see Ray knocking Janay out cold during an argument. The Ravens quickly terminated Rice’s contract, and Goodell suspended him from the NFL indefinitely because, he claimed, the new video contained information about the incident that the first video had not.

Along with the NFL Players Association, Rice appealed his suspension. In a double-jeopardy-type defense, Rice said he told Goodell exactly what happened in the elevator during a meeting held after the first video was released, which meant that the release of the more graphic footage should not have resulted in a second penalty.

Meanwhile, Goodell maintained that the second video showed a “starkly different sequence of events” than those described to him by Rice. (Among other things, Goodell claimed that Rice told him that he had merely slapped Janay and that she subsequently fell into a railing and knocked herself unconscious, but that story didn’t appear anywhere in the records of the meeting.) In the end, former federal judge Barbara S. Jones sided with Rice.

Jones wrote, “In short, I do not find that Rice minimized casually what happened that night. I do not doubt that viewing the video in September evoked horror in Commissioner Goodell, as it did with the public. But this does not change the fact that Rice did not lie or mislead the N.F.L. at the June 16 meeting … 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.”

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,” said Rice in a Friday statement. “I made an inexcusable mistake and accept full responsibility for my actions.”

Right after Jones’s ruling was made public, ESPN published Janay’s description of the night Ray beat her and the aftermath of the incident, along with a brief history of their relationship. (Janay has stood by her husband since the beginning of the scandal, even apologizing for provoking him in Atlantic City.) The essay was put together by ESPN’s Jamele Hill, who interviewed Janay for three hours earlier this month, but Janay was “given approval over its content.” Here are some excerpts:

News of our arrests broke the next day, February 16. The first video followed on February 19 and no, we weren’t prepared. I was sick to my stomach. I just broke down in tears.

I said to him, “I don’t think I should have seen that.”

He said, “me either.”

The video didn’t make me rethink our relationship, but I did want more of an explanation from him. I asked him why he left me on the floor like that. I asked him how he felt when he saw that I was unconscious. He told me he was in shock. I asked him what happened when we got out of the elevator. He told me he was terrified because security was there. I asked him how he felt seeing me like that. He said he was thinking, “What did I just do?” I didn’t watch the video again.

And:

I still find it hard to accept being called a “victim.” I know there are so many different opinions out there about me – that I’m weak, that I’m making excuses and covering up abuse – and that some people question my motives for staying with Ray.

However, I’m a strong woman and I come from a strong family. Never in my life have I seen abuse, nor have I seen any woman in my family physically abused. I have always been taught to respect myself and to never allow myself to be disrespected, especially by a man. Growing up, my father used to always tell my sister and I, “We don’t need a man to make us, if anything it’s the man who needs us.”

No matter how long we have known each other and no matter what the circumstance is, Ray understands that violent behavior like this, even one time, is never acceptable. Ray told the truth and has fully accepted responsibility for his actions, which allowed us to work together at improving ourselves and get to the better place we are today.

Rice’s reinstatement doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll be back on the football field any time soon. He needs to find a new team to play for, and many are likely to be wary of the bad publicity that would come with signing him. Still, as NFL analyst Herman Edwards told the Times, “There are 32 teams, but all it takes is one.”

Ray Rice Free to Play Football Again