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Ray Rice Decision and Aftermath

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
Keith Allison via flickr
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
Credit Keith Allison via flickr

Ray Rice's indefinite suspension from the NFL in September seemed at the time to be the last word on the subject. But a ruling last Friday from a retired federal judge sitting as an arbitrator overturning the suspension raises many more questions than it answered.

The one thing we know with absolute certainty is that Rice, who immediately became eligible to resume his football playing career, will not do so in a Ravens uniform, or at least not this year.

The team completely and understandably burned every bridge it had to Rice when it terminated the running back’s contract when a video of Rice surfaced in September.

That clip of Rice striking his then fiancée Janay in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino was enough for Baltimore management to sever all ties with Rice.

The play of Justin Forsett thus far has only served to justify the Ravens’ decision to cut Rice loose. Forsett, who played for four different teams in four years, seems to have found a home with the Ravens. He started the weekend ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards and first in yards per carry. At 29, an advanced age for an NFL running back, Forsett is two years older than Rice, so he might not be the Ravens’ long term answer at running back, but he’ll do for now.

As for Rice’s future, Judge Barbara Jones’ decision that the NFL effectively placed him in double jeopardy by first suspending him for two games, then making the suspension indefinite, theoretically frees him to resume his career. Again, that’s a theory.

In reality, the video and the ensuing furor has rendered Rice radioactive for most owners who likely won’t relish the idea of having the poster child for the NFL’s indifference to domestic violence on their roster. Of course, there are a number of examples of players who have returned to football after committing a variety of crimes. The teams’ willingness to accept those players roughly coincided with the ability of those players to perform at a high level. And that’s where Rice’s return could be problematical.

He was coming off his worst season in his six-year career before all of the issues with the video surfaced. He might still be a Raven today if not for his paltry 3.1 yard per carry average from last season. According to ESPN sources, four teams have expressed a quiet interest in Rice, but it’s hard to imagine seeing him in uniform this year.

The other question coming out of Jones’ ruling is if the footing under NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has weakened to the point that he, like Rice, might be out of work. Make no mistake, Jones issued a stinging rebuke to Goodell’s philosophy that he and he alone should issue discipline to wayward players. Jones narrowly avoided answering whether she thought Goodell lied about whether Rice told him the entire truth about the casino incident when they talked during the summer.

That leaves the final question of this sorry matter to NFL owners:  Should you entrust the leadership of your league to someone who can’t be trusted?

You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at sports [at] large at wypr[dot] org. And follow me on Twitter: @sportsatlarge.

Copyright 2014 WYPR - 88.1 FM Baltimore

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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.