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Roger Goodell testifies as Ray Rice appeal hearing begins

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was the first witness to testify in former Ravens running back Ray Rice's appeal hearing, which began Wednesday at a New York law firm.

Goodell was questioned by NFL Players Association outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, according to sources. Details of Goodell's testimony weren't disclosed by sources because of the gag order imposed by third-party arbitrator and former federal judge Barbara S. Jones.

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The NFL's top executive was expected to disclose specifics on why he increased Rice's original two-game suspension to an indefinite one.

After a graphic video surfaced on Sept. 8 of Rice punching his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, Goodell wrote in a disciplinary letter to Rice and the NFL Players Association that the video showed "a starkly different sequence of events" from what Rice described when he met with Goodell on June 16.

Goodell said he increased the suspension because of what the video showed.

Rice's representatives and the players' union are expected to argue that his rights were violated under the concept of double jeopardy. They're also expected to contend that the NFL violated the three-time Pro Bowl runner's rights to due process and went too far in applying the league's personal-conduct policy compared to precedents from previous domestic-violence incidents involving NFL players. Typically, first-time offenders like Rice have been suspended for one to two games.

Rice's representatives will also argue that the NFL reacted because of public relations and public outcry.

Rice and his wife, Janay, whom he married after being indicted on a felony aggravated assault charge stemming from the domestic violence incident in New Jersey, arrived at Jones' Manhattan law firm Wednesday morning. Television footage showed the couple held hands and entered the building without commenting or reacting to questions from reporters.

The Rices aren't expected to testify until Thursday, when they will emphasize that they told Goodell the truth about their domestic violence incident in an Atlantic City, N.J. casino, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, another witness to the June meeting held between Rice, Goodell, NFL executives and Ravens team president Dick Cass, attended the Ravens' practice on Wednesday and watched from his usual seat adjacent to the practice field at the team's Owings Mills training complex.

Cass and Newsome aren't expected to testify until Thursday. The Ravens are expected to stick by what they've said about Rice in previous statements, including Newsome stating on Sept. 22 that Rice told him that he hit Janay. In that statement, Newsome added that the video was much more violent than he had anticipated.

Rice avoided jail time as a first-time offender in the New Jersey court system when prosecutors accepted him into a pretrial intervention program. But his NFL future was put in doubt after the Ravens terminated his $35 million contract on Sept. 8, shortly before Goodell increased his discipline.

Rice has filed a separate wrongful termination grievance against the Ravens, seeking payment of his $3.529 million base salary for the 2014 season.

Rice has hired a crisis management expert and is expected to conduct a series of interviews once litigation is over, in a concerted effort to try to repair his image.

"I don't think the NFL ever intended to not let him play again ever, and I do see him getting back in the NFL for next season," said former NFL agent Joel Corry, who covers the business of football for National Football Post. "Ray has kept a low profile since the video came out. After the grievances are over, that would be the perfect time for him to start his image rehabilitation tour."

If Rice loses his bid for reinstatement, he could find himself asking the NFL for leniency at a later date. There's also the possibility of more litigation through the federal court system.

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"That's a critical element," said former NFL counsel David Cornwell, who doesn't represent Rice but previously represented Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and former Ravens wide receiver Donte' Stallworth in league disciplinary matters. "Filtered through Roger's prism, he may think that you're attacking him through the appeal. Still, there's clearly a path back into the NFL. The question is: How do you separate these kinds of circumstances from the public outcry? Ray is in a tough situation, but he has rights, and that's an important thing to remember and protect."

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