Ray Rice Can Return to the NFL

Don't look now, but the NFL's most notorious domestic abuser could be returning to a playing field near you. By all reports, the indefinite suspension imposed on former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is now over. According to multiple outlets, including ESPN and NBC Sports, Ray Rice won his suspension appeal against the NFL, and is expected to be reinstated in full, meaning he'll be eligible to sign with any team willing to take him on.

Of course, whether any teams will actually want to sign him is an open question — Rice is now a notorious and disgraced figure, having been caught on security footage striking his then-fiance into a metal handrail in a casino elevator back in February, knocking her unconscious.

The subsequent lax punishment issued by NFL Comissioner Roger Goodell — a mere two game suspension, derided and condemned especially as compared to a full season's suspension for pot-smoking Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon — sparked a high-profile scandal that continues to imperil the league’s reputation and Goodell’s career alike. Basically, Rice is just about as toxic a name as you could find in the NFL, suspended Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson notwithstanding, so it'd be no surprise if even a team with a glaring hole at running back would hesitate to bring him aboard.

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While this news will no doubt seem shocking and infuriating to people who think Rice got off too easily for his actions — knocking a woman unconscious and trying to drag her limp body back to a hotel room, for which he avoided criminal charges — this is more or less the outcome everyone expected. In the aftermath of his widely condemned handling of the incident, with the full, grisly footage of Rice's attack went public on Sept. 8, Goodell moved to suspend Rice indefinitely.

While this may have helped blunt some criticism in the short term, observers familiar with the NFL's disciplinary system and the influence of the NFL Players Union were likely able to see this coming. Rice and the union argued that Goodell's initial two-game suspension, which came after Rice had already detailed what had transpired in that Atlantic City casino, precluded any further discipline relating to the same incident.

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The league contested this point, arguing that Rice had lied to Goodell about the extent of the incident, but this clearly didn't carry any weight with U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones, who ruled in favor of Rice's reinstatement.

So, for all intents and purposes, Rice is now fully back in action, with both legal and career-related discipline in the rear-view mirror. But will he get signed? He's by no means a young up-and-comer anymore — he's 27, which while young in everyday life, is approaching the tail-end of an average running back's career. And with the enormous baggage he carries, and the tortured justifications any team that signed him would have to make to its fans, his future still seems anything but clear.

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