Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has won an appeal of his indefinite suspension from the NFL, a source in the league told NBC Sports Friday. Rice was ejected from the NFL in September after footage surfaced showing the athlete punching his then-fiancee unconscious.
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Former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones has overturned the suspension, according to the source. The decision means Rice may rejoin an NFL team -- though it remains to be seen whether any franchise would sign the embattled athlete. The Ravens have indicated that Rice would not be re-signed with the team.
"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. Ray Rice is a free agent and has been eligible to be signed by an NFL team since he was released by the Ravens. Based on Judge Jones' decision, he will be eligible to play upon signing a new contract," NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy said in a statement Friday.
Rice said in a statement Friday, "I made an inexcusable mistake and accept full responsibility for my actions. ... I will continue working hard to improve myself and be the best husband, father and friend, while giving back to my community and helping others learn from my mistakes.
Rice appealed the suspension on Sept. 16, arguing that the league had essentially punished him twice for the same incident. Rice was first banned for two games after surveillance footage surfaced showing him dragging his then-fiancee, who appeared to be unconscious, from an elevator in Atlantic City in February. TMZ later released additional video of the assault inside the elevator, which showed Rice punching Janay Palmer, who is now married to the athlete. The release of that tape sparked Rice’s indefinite suspension from the league.
"This decision is a victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent," the NFL Players Association said in a statement Friday. "This union will always stand up and fight for the due process rights of our players. We take no pleasure in seeing a decision that confirms what we have been saying about the commissioner's office acting arbitrarily. The only remaining action is for NFL owners to embrace a fair process with a neutral arbitrator in all cases. The players thank Judge Barbara Jones for her time and thoroughness in this matter."
Rice pleaded not guilty to assault charges and was sentenced to a pretrial intervention program, which allowed him to avoid any jail time.
Rice's wife, Janay Rice, said in an interview set to air on "TODAY" early next week that she was "furious" after the incident in the elevator. "We came home, and we didn't talk the entire ride home," she told NBC's Matt Lauer. "He tried to talk to me. i didn't want to hear anything. I just knew he hit me and I was completely over it. I was done."
Janay Rice added that even in the wake of the violent incident she was committed to stay in the relationship. “Of course in the back of my mind and in my heart I knew that our relationship wouldn't be over because I know that this isn't us and it's not him.’’
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has faced a slew of calls for his resignation over his handling of the Rice case, admitted in August that he “didn’t get it right” when he initially handed down a brief suspension for Rice. The NFL instituted a stricter policy for domestic abuse cases within the league, including suspending players for six games without pay for a first offense. The Rice case was the first in a series of blemishes for the NFL, with sponsors running from the league after a number of additional assault allegations were levied against star players.