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NFL, NFLPA agree to neutral arbitrator in Ray Rice's appeal

The NFL and the NFL Players Association have agreed to a neutral arbitrator to hear the appeal for indefinitely suspended former Ravens running back Ray Rice.

No hearing date or hearing officer have been determined yet, though, as talks continue between NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

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Smith addressed the development in an email to NFL players this afternoon, noting that potential candidates for the arbitration have been exchanged.

"For the first time ever, the league in the Rice Appeal, has agreed to use a neutral arbitrator which is being selected in discussions with the NFLPA," Smith wrote in the email. "The league has submitted names to us, and we have submitted names to the league; we will confer with the league shortly regarding the final choice of an appeals arbitrator. Although this occurs in the context of a difficult set of facts and circumstances, it is positive movement on the overall question of neutral arbitration and a fair Personal Conduct discipline process."

Goodell had previously agreed to recuse himself from hearing the case because he is expected to be a witness in the proceedings after writing in a disciplinary letter to Rice that his original two-game suspension for his domestic violence incident was increased due to "new evidence" in the TMZ video that showed the three-time Pro Bowl runner punching his then-fiancee, Janay.

Rice's $35 million contract was terminated by the Ravens. League spokesman Greg Aiello has told The Baltimore Sun that Goodell never intended to hear the appeal.

The NFLPA is expected to argue that Rice's due process was violated under the concept of double jeopardy, which is prohibited by Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement that governs "One Punishment" for a single offense, according to sources. They'll also argue that the TMZ video was edited that the NFL used as evidence in making their decision.

Here's the entire email from Smith obtained by The Sun:

"Men,

I want to apprise you of some recent developments related to the Ray Rice  Appeal, the larger domestic violence issue, and the Personal Conduct Policy.

"For the first time ever, the league in the Rice Appeal, has agreed to use a neutral arbitrator which is being selected in discussions with the NFLPA," Smith wrote in his e-mail. "The league has submitted names to us, and we have submitted names to the league; we will confer with the league shortly regarding the final choice of an appeals arbitrator.

"Although this occurs in the context of a difficult set of facts and circumstances, it is positive movement on the overall question of neutral arbitration and a fair Personal Conduct discipline process.

"Second, we have spent a considerable amount of time and effort to identify  experts from a variety of backgrounds to serve on a Commission to assist us and  the league to improve education, prevention, counseling, and the discipline  process regarding domestic violence and sexual assault.  Teri Patterson is  coordinating this work, and you should of course feel free to contact her or me with suggestions and advice.

"Finally, we are beginning the process of reaching out to our league sponsors to  inform them of the work we are doing in this area and to demonstrate that while we have occasional player issues, that the far majority of players are exactly  the type of representatives they want and that we will address the process issues that have caused them concern.

"De."

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