The NFL was forced to reinstate running back Ray Rice by Judge Barbara Jones, making him eligible to return to the field after missing 11 games during the 2014 season, per multiple sources. The NFL has agreed not to pursue any further punishment for Rice, saying it accepts the ruling "as binding," per Andrew Brandt.
After the conclusion of an appeal hearing that featured testimony from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the league lifted its indefinite suspension, which it levied on Sept. 8, an increase of Rice's original two-game suspension.
That was the same day TMZ obtained and published video of him punching then-fiancee Janay Palmer in the face. The Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice's contract within hours and insisted they did not see the tape until TMZ released it.
Since its release, the NFL echoed the Ravens' sentiment that it had not seen the video detailing the assault. Goodell maintained that stance throughout the process. The hearing took place in early November after the former Ravens running back filed a grievance against the league for wrongful termination.
On Nov. 6, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome provided a particularly damning piece of testimony for the NFL, saying that Rice told Goodell he hit Palmer on June 16. Goodell claimed he wasn't aware of the strike to the face and instead asserted Rice offered little transparency.
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Because he no longer has a contract with Baltimore, Rice is now a free agent who can sign with any team. Whether a team will risk the negative backlash that comes with signing him after the public hailstorm remains to be seen.
Here's the NFLPA released a statement following the news:
"This decision is a victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent. This union will always stand up and fight for the due process rights of our players. While we take no pleasure in seeing a decision that confirms what we have been saying about the Commissioner's office acting arbitrarily, we hope that this will bring the NFL owners to the collective bargaining table to fix a broken process. It is clear that this decision should force the NFL to embrace neutral arbitration as part of a necessary due process in all cases. The players thank Judge Barbara Jones for her time and thoroughness in this matter."
Rice released his own statement following the decision, via the NFLPA:
"I would like to thank Judge Barbara Jones, the NFL Players Association, my attorneys, agents, advisors, family, friends and fans - but most importantly, my wife Janay. I made an inexcusable mistake and accept full responsibility for my actions. I am thankful that there was a proper appeals process in place to address this issue. 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 to learn from my mistakes."
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy also responded to the ruling, via the Associated Press:
"Judge Jones' ruling underscores the urgency of our work to develop and implement a clear, fair and comprehensive new personal conduct policy. We expect this policy to be completed and announced in the weeks ahead. Our focus is on consistently enforcing an improved policy going forward."