The NFL Players Association filed a grievance on behalf of former Ravens running back Ray Rice on Tuesday night, demanding that the increased discipline of an indefinite suspension levied last week by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell be overturned.
This high-profile situation stems from Rice being arrested in February and later charged with felony aggravated assault for punching his then-fiancee in an elevator of an Atlantic City casino.
The players' union also requested that Goodell recuse himself from hearing the appeal because he would likely be a witness after stating in a disciplinary letter that he indefinitely suspended Rice based on new video evidence that surfaced a week ago.
“This action taken by our union is to protect the due process rights of all NFL players,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “The NFLPA appeal is based on supporting facts that reveal a lack of a fair and impartial process, including the role of the office of the Commissioner of the NFL. We have asked that a neutral and jointly selected arbitrator hear this case as the Commissioner and his staff will be essential witnesses in the proceeding and thus cannot serve as impartial arbitrators.
Rice's initial two-game suspension was increased to an indefinite suspension hours after the Ravens terminated his $35 million contract on Sept. 8 following TMZ Sports posting a video showing Rice knocking out his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, whom he later married. The release of the video triggered a national outcry.
Due process and the concept of double jeopardy are expected to be at the heart of the effort to attempt to get Rice reinstated, according to sources. Rice has been declared ineligible to sign an NFL contract.
“The enduring fundamental issue is there's a reason we have a collective bargaining agreement, and it's a serious policy despite the public fervor and outcry with the particular circumstances and conduct that we're discussing with Ray Rice,” said attorney David Cornwell, a former NFL counsel who doesn't represent Rice but represented former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a previous NFL disciplinary case. “
Beyond the Rice case, it’s been one of the most trying weeks in recent NFL history. The league is also dealing with child-abuse accusations against one of the league’s top players: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called for the Vikings to suspend Peterson. Peterson was deactivated by the Vikings on Sunday, but has now been reinstated.
Sponsors also began to take action suspending sponsorships and releasing statements, the strongest coming Tuesday from one of the NFL’s biggest partners, Anheuser-Busch, expressing disapproval about the Peterson case.
While the Vikings continue to navigate the controversy with Peterson, the NFLPA is expected to address Rice’s case by concentrating on Article 46, Section 4 of the collective bargaining agreement, which deals with “One Penalty.”
A hearing date must be set within 10 days of the filing of the appeal.
The NFLPA could argue that the NFL can't suspend Rice twice for the same violation of the personal-conduct policy, contending that the league and Ravens punished him more than once for the same infraction.
Rice’s case has already been adjudicated, avoiding jail time through a a pretrial intervention program that requires him to continue couples counseling, take anger management classes and remain out of trouble.
However, Rice lost his job and his future in the NFL is uncertain. Rice also lost his $3.529 million salary for the season.
“This video shows a starkly different sequence of events from what you and your representatives stated when we met on June 16, and is important new information that warrants reconsideration of the discipline imposed on you in July,” Goodell wrote in a letter to Rice and the NFLPA last Friday. “Based on this new information, I have concluded that the discipline imposed upon you in July was insufficient under all the circumstances and have determined instead to impose an indefinite suspension.”
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome told The Baltimore Sun last week Rice didn't lie to him.
Roethlisberger was originally suspended for six games after being investigated for an alleged sexual assault. After Roethlisberger did a mandatory professional behavior evaluation, the suspension was reduced to four games.
If Rice loses his bid for reinstatement, he could find himself asking the NFL for leniency down the road.
“Filtered through Roger's prism, he may think that you're attacking him through the appeal,” Cornwell said. “That's a no-win battle. This thing has to be handled delicately.
“There's clearly a path back into the NFL. The question is, 'How do you separate 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.”