Sunday, November 30, 2014

Overturning of Rice suspension demonstrates that due process is not a lost right--even for NFL players

The recent ruling by Judge Barbara Jones in the Ray Rice appeal of his indefinite suspension makes it clear that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell badly overreached himself. Jones found that Rice had successfully completed the punitive requirements dictated by the criminal courts, and that the NFL initially suspending Rice for two games, and then four additional games following the public response to that first video, did not amount to an abuse of authority. 

But Goodell’s actions after the release of the edited second video inside the elevator released by news outlets—upon which the Baltimore Ravens cut Rice and Goodell suspended him indefinitely—was found to be illegal. Goodell “justification” for the indefinite suspension—claiming that he had been “lied” to by Rice--was clearly a self-serving claim, since Rice had admitted to striking his fiancé inside the elevator, and his testimony largely was not at variance with what the videos showed.

The ruling noted that Rice and his then fiancé (now wife) Janay Rice had consumed a large quantity of alcohol prior to the incident. It was also noted that just prior to entering the elevator, Janay Rice slapped Rice in the face (domestic violence Act 1). Immediately after they entered the elevator, Janay Rice strikes Rice in the face again (domestic violence Act 2). The elevator video then shows Janay. Rice attempting to strike Rice a third time, at which point Rice responds in the way that has drawn so much outrage and hypocrisy. Both Rice and his fiancé were arrested for domestic assault, but neither pursued charges and neither claimed to be injured. 

Janay Rice has since acknowledged her own culpability, although it seems that victim advocates find her attempts to accept responsibility for her own actions as problematic to their own agenda. Despite the fact that Janay Rice has appeared on several programs on her own speaking to this, some commentators (like frequent Tiger Woods critic Ian O’Connor) claim that Goodell made a “mistake” by allowing Janay Rice to appear with Rice at their meeting, this seems a little absurd since their story has never changed from its initial telling—and videos don’t lie, at least those that are not edited. 

Jones found that the claim by Goodell and other NFL representatives that they had been “lied” to at the original meeting with Rice and his wife could not be sustained; in fact, she noted that Goodell had a “poor recollection” of what had been said at the meeting. She also noted that it was clear that the NFL had violated the collective bargaining agreement on player punishment, and that further there was no justification for Goodell to add additional punishments on Rice, that he acted solely in response to public pressure. Jones found the indefinite suspension “arbitrary,” that Goodell abused his discretion, and ordered the additional suspension vacated. Reportedly four teams are interested in Rice’s services.

No doubt this means that Adrian Peterson will also have a strong case if he appeals his indefinite suspension, despite the fact he was not charged with a crime.

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