LOS ANGELES: Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was suspended indefinitely earlier this year for domestic violence, won his appeal Friday, meaning he could return to the National Football League.
Rice — who was cut by the Ravens — is now a free agent, and eligible to sign with another team, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) announced.
“I am thankful that there was a proper appeals process in place to address this issue,” said Rice.
“I will continue working hard to improve myself and be the best husband, father and friend while giving back to the community and helping others to learn from my mistakes.”
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 now-wife Janay Palmer in a casino elevator in February, knocking her unconscious.
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.
“This decision is a victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent. This union will always stand up and fight for the due process rights of our players,” the NFLPA said in a statement.
“While we take no pleasure in seeing a decision that confirms what we have been saying about the Commissioner’s office acting arbitrarily, we hope that this will bring the NFL owners to the collective bargaining table to fix a broken process.
“It is clear that this decision should force the NFL to embrace neutral arbitration as part of a necessary due process in all cases.”
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 indefinitely.
Many had criticized Goodell for his handling of the case, saying the initial two-game suspension was too lenient.
Surveillance footage showed Rice and Palmer entering the elevator at the now-closed casino.
The two were standing beside each other before a shove. Rice then moved away and Palmer rushed toward him before he reacted with a quick left-handed punch.
Rice appealed the indefinite suspension at the hearing in which Goodell testified. Rice and his wife also testified, as did Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
The union argued the league violated labor laws by increasing Rice’s punishment after the video surfaced.
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.