Ray Rice’s NFL Suspension Thrown Out by Arbitrator

Ray Rice‘s indefinite suspension from the National Football League has been lifted after an independent arbitrator ruled in his favor, clearing the way for the running back to continue his playing career nine months after he knocked out his fiancee in a hotel casino elevator.

Rice, 27, who played for the Baltimore Ravens, initially was suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for two games. The ban was increased after a video of the beating was made public on the Internet.

 Former U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones, who was appointed to arbitrate the case by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, ruled that Rice’s suspension should be vacated immediately, NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said in a statement.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy didn’t immediately return a message seeking league comment.

Rice, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who was cut by the Ravens on Sept. 8 and is unsigned, is eligible to return to the NFL immediately. A two-day hearing in the case, which included testimony from both Rice and Goodell, concluded Nov. 6.

Rice’s appeal claimed that he was punished twice in the same case and that the NFL’s punishment was based on the lack of a fair and impartial process, including Goodell’s role. Goodell was the first witness called by the union, and both Rice and his wife, who was the victim of the assault, attended the hearing, ESPN reported, citing people it didn’t identify.

 Brian Billick, who coached the Ravens before Rice’s arrival, said Rice remains a capable rusher and will probably find employment with an NFL team.

Rice’s Return”As much as it’s a tough PR move to bring in someone like Ray Rice given his recent history, I think someone will do it,” Billick, now an analyst for the NFL Network, said in a phone interview before the ruling. “He’s obviously still a capable back and it’s coupled with the fact that outside of this case, Ray Rice has been a model citizen. I think people will factor that in.”

While it would be easier for teams to sign Rice during the offseason, giving them time to a prepare a plan for his likely controversial introduction, his immediate signing isn’t out of the question, Billick said. After this weekend, there are four weeks left in the NFL’s regular season.

“There are enough teams depleted at running back, so I wouldn’t preclude him coming back to the league right now,” he said.

Rice’s case set off a storm of criticism for the NFL, leading to protests outside games and women’s groups calling for Goodell’s ouster. Owners stood by Goodell, who hired three women to overhaul the league’s personal-conduct policy and promised a new policy before the Super Bowl in February.

Elevator AltercationThe Ravens terminated Rice’s contract Sept. 8 and he was banned indefinitely from the league after the website TMZ posted video of him knocking out Janay Palmer, then his fiancee, in a New Jersey casino elevator during a February altercation.

Rice got the initial two-game ban in July from Goodell. At the time, the league had only seen footage of Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer from the elevator, Goodell said after the second video surfaced.

The commissioner also said the league initially erred in its punishment of Rice.

Goodell’s claim that the NFL hadn’t seen the footage from inside the elevator was challenged by an Associated Press story reporting that a law enforcement official sent the video to NFL headquarters in New York five months before Rice was banned. The league said it found “no evidence” that the video was received by the league.

The NFL on Sept. 10 hired former FBI Director Robert Mueller to conduct an investigation into the league’s handling of the case.

Peterson CaseRice’s case was the most publicized of several domestic abuse incidents involving NFL players in recent months.

Minnesota Vikings All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson was indicted in September on child-abuse charges for beating his son with a small tree branch, known as a switch. Peterson, the NFL’s 2012 Most Valuable Player, on Nov. 5 reached a plea bargain to avoid trial. He was suspended for at least the rest of the season on Nov. 18 and remains on the commissioner’s exempt list while appealing, collecting his $11.75 million annual salary even though he only played in one game this season.

Jones, who served in the Southern District of New York from 1996-2013, is currently a partner in the law firm of Zuckerman Spaeder.