Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was suspended indefinitely earlier this year for domestic violence, has won his appeal, meaning he could return to the NFL.
Rice – who was cut by the Ravens – is now a free agent, and eligible to play if another team signs him, his lawyer Peter Ginsberg told USA Today after the hearing.
The 27-year-old Rice had been sacked by the Ravens and kicked out of the NFL indefinitely in September after the emergence of video showing him punching his nowwife Janay Palmer unconscious in a casino elevator in February.
A former federal judge, Barbara Jones, presided over the appeal hearing earlier this month in New York as an arbitrator appointed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Rice, who helped the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in 2013, was initially suspended for two games when a first video of the incident surfaced.
But a second video, showed him punching Palmer in the head, sparked a nationwide furore and prompted the Ravens to sack Rice and the NFL to ban him
Jones ruled: “In this arbitration, the NFL argues that commissioner Goodell was misled when he disciplined Rice the first time.
"Because, after careful consideration of all of the evidence, I am not persuaded that Rice lied to, or misled, the NFL at his June interview, I find that the indefinite suspension was an abuse of discretion and must be vacated.”
Many had criticised Goodell for his handling of the case, saying the initial two-game suspension was too lenient. The Rice case is one of several violent off-field incidents that have roiled the hugely popular and lucrative NFL, sparking criticism from fans, sponsors and even US lawmakers.
Jones continued: “The commissioner needed to be fair and consistent in his imposition of discipline.
"Moreover, any failure on the part of the League to understand the level of violence was not due to Rice’s description of the event but to the inadequacy of words to convey the seriousness of domestic violence.
"That the League did not realise the severity of the conduct without a visual record also speaks to their admitted failure in the past to sanction this type of conduct
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