More than nine months after Ray Rice punched the woman who is now his wife in the face in an Atlantic City elevator, knocking her down and knocking her out, a former U.S. District Judge named Barbara Jones officially hits the commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, even harder than Ray Rice hit Janay Rice. Judge Jones did not go at Goodell with a closed fist, just with withering language that was the same as hitting the man once considered the most powerful man in professional sports in this country with a baseball bat.
This isn’t about Rice winning his appeal, and earning the right to play football again; to stop being an unemployed wife-beater. No one is surprised at what happened on Friday, just because everyone knew nothing that had happened inside that elevator had changed between the time Goodell originally gave Rice a two-game suspension, then later changed it to an indefinite suspension after the elevator video was released to the world.
The headline here, in lights, is that Jones completely rejected Goodell’s version of Ray Rice’s version of the events inside that elevator on Valentine’s Day weekend, one Goodell would later describe as being “ambiguous.” From the start, you wondered if Goodell thought the woman who is now Mrs. Rice had knocked herself out, because in the original video we saw, she was on the floor when the elevator doors opened.
Goodell said he revised the suspension later when he saw the punch. Judge Jones wasn’t buying it, not for one minute. It is why she is the one who comes out swinging. Think about where we are on this, all this time after Rice acted like a wife-beating bum that night in February:
It is the commissioner of the National Football League who ends up with a black eye. At least. The irony is that he gets smacked this way for giving Rice the suspension he should have given him in the first place.
Here is, in part, what Judge Barbara Jones wrote: “In this arbitration, the NFL argues that Commissioner Goodell was misled when he disciplined Rice the first time. Because after careful consideration of all 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 . . .
“Moreover, a 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.”
It is not just that Rice gets his day in a real court here, which was his right as a member of the National Football League Players Association. Goodell gets the same day in court, after he got to play judge for years. No longer is this about what people thought they knew about this case. It is only about the evidence heard by a former U.S. District judge, which absolutely confirms the part of Rice’s story that has held up for months:
That he told Goodell exactly what had happened inside that elevator.
Here is what Teri Thompson, Michael O’Keeffe, Nate Vinton and Christian Red of this newspaper’s Sports I-Team reported back in September:
“According to a source who attended the meeting with Rice, Goodell and a cadre of NFL and Ravens officials on June 16 in the NFL’s midtown offices, the running back replayed the scene in the elevator, including the sequence of events that left Palmer unconscious on the floor. Because Rice believed Goodell had already seen the video TMZ eventually released, the source said, Rice was grimly specific in his retelling — a fact that further undermines Goodell’s claims of ignorance.
“Ray owned it from Day 1,” said one source of Rice’s descriptions of events. “He went in as if (the tape) existed. Everyone knew it existed. He knew if the commissioner hadn’t already seen it, he would see it.’”
Nothing changes about that punch, by the way, Rice calmly standing over his then-fiancée when it was over. Rice deserves no more sympathy today than he did when we found out the way he struck a woman, and does not become some kind of Eagle Scout because Judge Jones ruled in his favor.
But Goodell made a mess of this at the very beginning, got himself on the wrong side of a profoundly important issue in this country — if not in his sport, at least not before February — when he only gave Rice two games. He never should have needed the elevator video, or even Rice’s account of how he came to put a fist in Janay Palmer’s face that night, never should have needed the amateur-hour treatment of what Rice did from the Atlantic County (N.J.) prosecutor’s office.
It should have been a felony in Goodell’s league, and he treated it like a misdemeanor, and got on the wrong side of history in the process. Now a former judge found Ray Rice more credible than the commissioner of the NFL. In a violent sport, the commissioner takes the biggest hit of all this season.