Ray Rice wins suspension appeal

Willie Grace | 11/28/2014, 9:19 p.m. | Updated on 11/28/2014, 9:20 p.m.
Former U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones, a neutral arbitrator, presided over Rice's appeal hearing in New York earlier this month.
The Rices also were interview by NBC, portions of which will be aired Monday and Tuesday.

(CNN) -- Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has won his appeal of his indefinite suspension by the NFL for violating its domestic violence policy, the players union said Friday.

"The suspension has been vacated," George Atallah, the assistant executive director of external affairs for the players' union, said.

Rice issued a written statement thanking his supporters, "most importantly, my wife Janay."

"I made an inexcusable mistake and accept full responsibility for my actions," Rice said, referring to two disturbing videos that show him knocking out his now-wife, Janay Rice, on an elevator in a casino in Atlantic City on February 15. "I am thankful that there was a proper appeals process in place to address this issue."

He said he will continue to work hard to improve himself and learn from his mistakes.

Former U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones, a neutral arbitrator, presided over Rice's appeal hearing in New York earlier this month.

Her decision means Rice is immediately able to play but any team will have to consider the consequences of signing someone whose domestic-violence case has been so public.

Judge: Second suspension was 'arbitrary'

In September, hours after the Ravens cut Rice, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell lengthened Rice's suspension from two games to an indefinite period.

"Because Rice did not mislead the commissioner and because there were no new facts on which the commissioner could base his increased suspension, I find that the imposition of the indefinite suspension was arbitrary. I therefore vacate the second penalty imposed on Rice," Jones wrote in her decision.

She said the case wasn't about the number of games that Rice was suspended but the need for Goodell to be "fair and consistent" in its discipline.

"Following the release of the inside-the-elevator video, which prompted a new round of criticism, the league suspended Rice indefinitely. Now, the league argues that Commissioner Goodell was justified in imposing the second discipline because Rice had misled him and because the video demonstrated a level of violence that he had not understood.

"I have found that Rice did not mislead the commissioner. 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 realize the severity of the conduct without a visual record also speaks to their admitted failure in the past to sanction this type of conduct more severely."

League: We respect decision

In August, after outrage over Rice's initial two-game suspension, Goodell announced a new league policy for domestic violence and other assaults. First-time offenders would be suspended at least six games and a second offense would draw a lifetime ban. But he didn't alter Rice's punishment at that time.

Provisions of the initial suspension -- which include counseling, not getting in legal trouble again and not getting in trouble with the NFL again -- still stand, she wrote. The two-game suspension would have ended in September.