Breaking: Ray Rice wins appeal, suspension overturned

Are you ready for some football? Ray Rice is, and it looks like he’s coming back — if a team is willing to put him on the roster. An arbitrator presiding over his fight with the NFL has overturned his indefinite suspension, making the former Baltimore Ravens running back eligible to sign with any team after missing most of the 2014 season for his assault on the woman who is now his wife in February:

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.

“I find that the NFLPA 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 wrote.

“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.”

An NFL spokesman, when asked by ESPN’s Andrew Brandt if the league would pursue any further action against Rice, said: “We, of course, accept the ruling as binding.”

It’s one thing to be eligible. It’s another entirely to find a team willing to put Rice on a team at all. There certainly are readiness issues like weight, training, and conditioning, but let’s face it — those aren’t the issues that would keep Rice on the unemployment line. Which team wants to be the one that introduces Rice to the locker room after having lectured them for weeks about domestic violence because of Rice’s attack on his wife?

The Colts have already announced that they have no interest in Rice, according to ESPN. Don’t expect a team in the hunt for the playoffs to take a risk on Rice. If any team wants to pick up that public-relations nightmare, it will likely be one where bad chemistry and distractions will make no difference in 2014. With just five weeks left to go in the regular season, Rice won’t have the opportunity to contribute enough to make the headaches worth it for any team with a remote shot at making the post-season.

In the end, though, Rice will play again, even if it’s next year and on a team that doesn’t care about bad publicity. That would make the Oakland Raiders and the Washington Redskins the two most likely options for Rice, the latter of which got bad PR just for tweeting out a Happy Thanksgiving message yesterday. If that’s all it takes for the social-justice warriors to come unglued, having Rice in the backfield won’t make matters any worse than they already are.

Make no mistake: if a team signs Rice, then every time the anti-domestic violence ad runs during an NFL game, people will scream about the hypocrisy the team that signs him is demonstrating. And the critics won’t be entirely wrong, either.

Note: Added final paragraph after initial publication, and cleaned up an awkward construction in another paragraph.

Update: Ray Rice released this statement:

“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. “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 got some support from his former teammate:

Let’s hope so. He’s paid a significant professional price, and hopefully has learned his lesson and will redeem himself. Rice still may be better advised to wait until next year to return, though, and allow for a little more demonstration of that improvement.