Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and the NFL Players’ Association have filed an appeal against the indefinite suspension that the league has imposed upon him following the release of footage showing him striking his now-wife Janay Palmer in a hotel elevator back in February.
Some might question how the NFLPA could ever stand with Rice on this decision to appeal the suspension. Certainly, one might well question Rice’s own decision to appeal, given the visceral video evidence of his guilt.
For the NFLPA, however, there’s a much broader issue at stake, and it has all to do with the manner in which the league handled his situation to begin with.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and the front office dragged their proverbial feet on the issue throughout the offseason, claiming to have simply thrown their hands in the air in defeat after, they allege, they were denied access to the elevator video.
As a sidebar, sources have claimed that the league did indeed actually receive the elevator footage back in April, and have presumably deliberately avoided seeing it, or at least denied having seen it.
The assumed reason would be because they believed that taking action against one of their employees for such a visceral display of domestic violence, while making it public, would be more damaging to the integrity of the league than, essentially, covering it up.
Either way, it has ultimately led to what is at least nominally an independent investigation to determine what the league knew and when they knew it, with Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II and New York Giants owner John Mara serving as assistants to the investigator in providing him materials and access to resources pertinent to the process.
But back to the NFLPA, the reason that the association is standing with Rice on this issue is because of the precedent it sets as a result of the league being forced to backtrack on its penalty after the elevator footage was released.
Back in July, the league gave him a slap on the wrist with a two-game suspension, but after the tape was made public earlier this month, the Ravens released Rice, and the NFL quickly followed suit by announcing that he would be suspended indefinitely.
The former Raven contended that his account of the event was not misleading based on what was seen on the tape, however. As a result, Rice is arguing that he is being punished twice for the same offense. Legally speaking, this would amount to double jeopardy—you cannot be put on trial twice for the same charge stemming from the same event.
This is why the NFLPA has become involved. If the league can backtrack on its punishments without warning, due to public scrutiny or otherwise, then any player could potentially be at risk of the same treatment.
The Players’ Association finds itself in the vulnerable position right now of defending the rights of a domestic abuser, but it’s a position that they cannot afford back away from. It is their obligation to stand up for the rights of all of the league’s players, and the precedents set by the course of Rice’s discipline can have repercussions for others in the future if not challenged.