Now that Ravens running back Ray Rice has been accepted into a diversionary program that could allow him to eventually clear his record following a third-degree aggravated assault charge, but the NFL could still discipline the three-time Pro Bowl selection.
The league has been monitoring the case under the NFL personal-conduct policy ever since Rice was arrested in February following a physical altercation at an Atlantic City casino with his then-fiancee Janay Palmer, whom he later married.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has discretionary power to discipline players regardless of how legal situations are adjudicated and has shown that in the past.
Goodell suspended Ben Roethlisberger during the 2010 season for six games, which was later reduced to four games, after the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback was investigated by law enforcement officials for an alleged sexual assault in Georgia. Roethlisberger was never charged with a crime.
Atlanta lawyer David Cornwell, a former NFL counsel who has represented Roethlisberger, former Ravens wide receiver Donte' Stallworth and New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez, told The Baltimore Sun earlier this month that despite Rice's first-time offender status, a suspension remains a potential outcome. Cornwell cited the leaked surveillance video to TMZ that shows Rice dragging Palmer from an elevator and the high-profile nature of the case as factors that will probably complicate his disciplinary outlook with the league.
"I think the problem that Ray Rice has is the video and that created such a public outrage," said Cornwell, who doesn't represent Rice.. "He has no other prior incidents and, all things being equal, he probably would be looking at a fine from the NFL under normal circumstances. The video makes it a little more complicated.
"That's what could get it out of the fine range and into a suspension because the league will respond to the unique aspect of the video and the fact that there's a female involved. Those are complicating factors. The NFL has ignored plea bargains and things of that nature in the past."
Former Ravens cornerback Cary Williams was suspended for two games by the NFL during the 2010 season for a domestic-violence incident. And former Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington was suspended for one game during the 2008 season for a domestic-violence incident. Both were first-time offenders.
Rice and Palmer have attended counseling. She attended Rice's court hearing, walking into court with him holding hands, and wrote a letter in support of him being accepted into a pre-trial intervention program.
"The league will take a look at all of that, and Roger Goodell is responsive to things like counseling and what kind of positive steps a player takes following an incident," Cornwell said. "He also pays attention to the amount of press a case gets and the fact that this is a very important issue."