A federal judge’s ruling that the NFL was wrong to indefinitely suspend Ray Rice was a victory for due process, employee protections and common sense.
Last February, when a terrible video surfaced of NFL player Ray Rice dragging his limp, unconscious girlfriend out of an elevator, we all knew exactly what happened. Rice hit his girlfriend (now his wife) and knocked her out. NFL commissioner (and shameless liar and hypocrite) Roger Goodell suspended Rice for a couple games for the incident, provoking criticism from a number of people. That incident might have flown under the radar, until the video of Rice actually punching his girlfriend was leaked to the news media and posted online.
That is when the feces hit the air circulator.
Goodell, who knew exactly what happened months earlier, was faced with a public relations nightmare and tried to mollify critics by punishing Rice a second time for the same incident. Rice appealed, and a federal judge ruled Thanksgiving week that the punishment was arbitrary and that no new information had come out to justify the suspension. Put simply, Goodell’s punishment of Rice had literally nothing to do with the facts of the case and everything to do with quieting the political storm the NFL was facing.
Had Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely months earlier (and the Baltimore Raisins joined in by voiding his contract) that would have been acceptable. In fact, I would have supported that decision. The NFL and the Raisins demonstrated that they did not take domestic violence seriously. But the decision was what it was, and the NFL (or the Raisins, for that matter) should not be allowed to have a do-over because they made a mess of the case the first time around.
The damage has already been done. It is difficult for an athlete to sit out an entire season and return in top form. Rice will not be as effective if he is picked up for a playoff run, and may have difficulty getting back to form next year. This is why I hope Rice wins his lawsuit for lost wages, for at least twice what was left on his contract. That would send an appropriate message to the NFL, both for the dishonest and shamefully hypocritical way this case was handled and to get it right the first time if and when this happens again.