This past March, a grand jury indicted Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice on third-degree aggravated assault charges after video surfaced of Rice hitting his then fiancé outside a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Rice pleaded not guilty, avoided trial, and ultimately ended up being sentenced to complete a pre-intervention program. In terms of his NFL punishment, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for two games, in compliance with the previous rules on domestic violence charges. However, in light of the newly released video of Rice violently punching his wife in an elevator at the same casino in Atlantic City, Rice and the NFL could face serious legal questions. Several hours after the new video evidence was released, the Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice’s contract and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.

It is likely that the NFL extending Rice’s suspension from two games to an indefinite amount of time is lawful under the personal conduct policy as long as the league was unaware of the elevator video. However, while the NFL personal conduct policy does not include a double jeopardy provision, Article 46 of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement states that neither the NFL nor a team can punish a player twice for the same act. Therefore, the question becomes whether the video of Rice punching his then fiancé in an elevator qualifies as a separate act from the video of Rice dragging her out of the nightclub even though the two acts occurred on the same night. If the video constitutes a separate act, the NFL could justify the increase in suspension by arguing that Rice is now within the scope of their new domestic violence policy (six games for the first offense and a lifetime ban for the second offense).

However, information has recently come out that the NFL has known about the elevator video. An Associated Press report stated that a league executive received an official copy of the elevator video from law enforcement back in April of this year. As expected, the league has denied any prior knowledge of the video. If the NFL was already aware of the elevator video and still extended Rice’s suspension, Rice may have some form of legal action. Rice could accuse the NFL of engaging in arbitrary and capricious decision-making. He could attempt to sue the Baltimore Ravens, but a lawsuit against the team would likely fail because NFL teams are allowed to cut players for any lawful reason. In addition, the NFL Player Association could file an unfair labor practices charge with the NLRB on behalf of Rice.

Victoria Roessler

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One Response to Was the NFL’s Extension of Ray Rice’s Suspension Lawful?

  1. Rebecca Loegering says:

    Rice and the players association may have legal remedies available to them if the AP’s report is fully substantiated. However, whether bringing legal action is the correct public relations approach is an additional calculation. Rice and the NFLPA must take in to account the risks of challenging the NFL’s decision and the reprocussions with fans. The fallout from the NFL and Ravens’ approach to the issue is well-documented, particularly with female fans: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/18/sports/football/women-disillusioned-by-nfl.html