Ray Rice can play in the NFL again. An arbitrator reinstated the former Baltimore Ravens running back, apparently agreeing with Rice that his indefinite suspension was “arbitrary,” and that he had been penalized twice for the same offense. Former U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones ultimately concluded that Commissioner Roger Goodell's decision to change Rice’s suspension from two games to indefinite after video emerged of him hitting his wife in an elevator amounted to an “abuse of discretion,” reports the Associated Press.
At the heart of the decision was Jones’ view that Rice never misrepresented or lied about what happened, so he shouldn’t have been awarded a harsher punishment after the shocking video emerged. “In short, I do not find that Rice minimized casually what happened that night,” Judge Jones wrote. “I do not doubt that viewing the video in September evoked horror in Commissioner Goodell, as it did with the public,” Jones wrote, according to the New York Times. “But this does not change the fact that Rice did not lie or mislead the N.F.L. at the June 16 meeting.” The NFL Players Association hailed the decision as a “victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent.”
Even though the decision marks a clear victory for Rice, just because he can play in the NFL does not mean that anyone will sign him. Although “some NFL teams have been receptive to Rice … his retrun remains a tough sell,” according to the Baltimore Sun. First, teams are likely to be concerned that signing Rice could lead to a negative reaction from the public at large. Plus, Rice is no longer seen as the formidable player he once was. USA Today explains:
The film of Rice from last season showed a player who had lost some of his explosion, who struggled to break tackles and averaged just 3.1 yards per carry. Rice's 660 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games were his lowest totals since he became a starter in 2009.
That decreased production and questions about if he can return to form might be a bigger issue for teams than Rice's off-field transgression.
"We respect Judge Jones's decision to reinstate Ray Rice from his indefinite suspension for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy in an incident of domestic violence,” The NFL said in a statement. “Ray Rice is a free agent and has been eligible to be signed by an NFL team since he was released by the Ravens.”
Rice is scheduled to go on a charm offensive to try to win over some sympathy. NBC’s Today will be airing interviews of Rice and his wife on Monday and Tuesday.