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2-Day Appeal Hearing To Consider Ray Rice's NFL Case

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There is a lot on the line today at a hearing in the case of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, a lot on the line for Rice and also for the National Football League. Let's remember Rice was banned by the NFL after a video was released showing him knocking out his then fiancee in an elevator in February. Now Rice is appealing that suspension with a two-day hearing beginning today in New York. Joining me now to talk about it, NPR'S Joel Rose. Joel, good morning.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what exactly is Ray Rice's side going to be arguing here?

ROSE: Well, they're not going to deny that he punched Janay Palmer, who is now his wife. But the NFL contract says players can only be punished once for a given offense. So Rice's lawyers will probably argue that he's been punished twice. The first time was over the summer when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down a two-game suspension. That was widely criticized at the time as too short. Then after the video of what happened in the elevator leaked in September, Goodell turned around and quickly issued an indefinite suspension. So the lawyers for Rice and the NFL Players Association will argue that the NFL is violating the contract.

GREENE: OK, so it certainly sounds like there were two punishments. I guess a key question will be whether it was for the same offense or not. How is the NFL going to defend Goodell and his decision to indifferently suspend Rice?

ROSE: So lawyers for the NFL will likely argue that the league did not know exactly what happened in the elevator when it handed down that first two-game suspension. Goodell has said that Rice's description of the events was ambiguous. Goodell claims he didn't see the elevator video of the punch until we all saw it. So the NFL's lawyers will argue that those were essentially new facts, which required a new punishment. Rice's camp on the other hand says they were totally honest with his former team, the Baltimore Ravens, and with the league from the very beginning. So they say nothing has changed really in between except of course that the video went public.

GREENE: People have been looking at this hearing and saying there might be as much on the line for Commissioner Goodell as for Ray Rice himself. Why so much focus on the commissioner here?

ROSE: Well, 'cause he's in a very tight spot here. I mean the NFL reportedly has tried to stop him from testifying, but the independent arbiter who's hearing this appeal says, no, Goodell has to testify at some point during the two-day hearing. You know, again Goodell has maintained that he didn't see the elevator video until it went public. But many people are skeptical about that claim, and if Goodell gets on the witness stand, he will have to contend with Jeffrey Kessler, who is the lawyer for the NFL Players Association. And Kessler will try to trip Goodell up, and he'll try to poke holes in the story about what Goodell knew and when he knew it. And all that could end very badly for the commissioner. And so a lot of people have wondered why the NFL would risk putting Goodell on the witness stand at all. You know, why not just settle and give Ray Rice a suspension that's somewhere between two games and forever? But then the headline might be that the NFL is going easy on domestic violence, and so neither option is especially palatable if you are the league.

GREENE: Easy on domestic violence, meaning Goodell not taking the stand would look like the NFL was sort of running away from this, I guess.

ROSE: Well, right, or just caving in and allowing Ray Rice back in without fighting to the bitter end.

GREENE: Will Ray Rice ever play again? Is there a scenario where this hearing and this appeal plays out that he could be back on the football field?

ROSE: It's a good question. Even if he wins the appeal, it's not clear that there's an NFL team that would want him. I mean he's 27. He's coming off a season that was mediocre by his standards. But, you know, the closest parallel might be Michael Vick. He was convicted of dogfighting several years ago, served his time in prison, admitted his mistakes and came back and played in the league and has actually had some success. So Ray Rice is a free agent. It's possible that some team could sign him to a small contract - maybe. But I mean, I think that's possible next year. I think it's highly unlikely to happen this season, and in any case Ray Rice's days as a star are probably over.

GREENE: OK, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, his appeal being heard at a two-day hearing that begins in New York today. That was NPR's Joel Rose. Joel, thanks a lot.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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