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Rice Case Could Force Changes In NFL Discipline


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer and it is time for Sports.

Former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice went before an arbiter this week to appeal his lifetime ban from the NFL. The former running back was suspended after a video showed him punching his then-fiancee. The independent arbiter will decide whether the NFL overstepped and if Rice will be out of the game indefinitely. Joining us is Howard Bryant of and ESPN the magazine.

Howard, welcome.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So could you fill us in on Ray Rice's appeal this week? Commissioner Goodell testified.

BRYANT: He did. He testified for two hours. Essentially it's a case of double jeopardy as to whether or not the commissioner overstepped his authority in punishing Ray Rice a second time for the entire season, when he had initially punished him for two games and in addition to Goodell testifying, as did Ozzie Newsome the general manager of the Baltimore Ravens, saying that Roger Goodell knew exactly what Ray Rice told him was on the video, initially and that's sort of the crux of what's taking place here. The NFL is saying that the video prompted him to suspend Rice further because it was new information, whereas the Rice camp is saying we told him exactly what was on the video initially and this was his suspension and then obviously public pressure, once the video surfaced, forced him to do more - which you can't do. You can't punish somebody twice for the same offense.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Ray Rice is not the only NFL player embroiled in these kinds of proceedings, is that right?

BRYANT: No. You've also got Adrian Peterson, who was involved in a child abuse case and he plead down to reckless - or child endangerment and the question with all of this, for me Linda, it's been really difficult, is the punishment. Now the question for Adrian Peterson is going to be he's already on the commissioner's exempt list. He's still earning his $11.5 million a year, but is he now going to be allowed to play or does the suspension continue forward now that the case has been adjudicated?

WERTHEIMER: As I understand it, these cases are changing how the league does its business, how it disciplines players?

BRYANT: Sure. Well, this is what's happening is that now you've got a great deal of pitchfork mentality. You've got a great deal of conversation about whether or not these players are going to be allowed to play again and it's a really interesting conversation because we're wondering now, are we taking players' careers from them? You lose your job when you do something that you shouldn't be doing, but do you lose your entire career? Should Ray Rice ever play football again? Should Adrian Peterson ever be allowed to play football again? And it makes you wonder if that's kind of who we are. Obviously there's going to be the question with somebody like Ray Rice after seeing that video whether or not he even needs to be suspended by the League because no team would want that - would want him on their team anyway so it's almost as though it's sort of an invisible blacklist. I mean, that's what's going to happen regardless, but, in other industries you lose your job but you don't lose your career. It's going to be very interesting to see how the NFL plays this.

WERTHEIMER: Do you have a feeling that this bringing in an arbiter giving - it used to be that the commissioner made a decision and then he heard the appeal, as well. Now we have an arbiter. Is this a better system? Do you think it's going to be a better system?

BRYANT: Well, it's a great system for the players. The players, for decades, this is what they've wanted in collective bargaining. This is what they've wanted to go on strike about but didn't quite have the firepower to do it, to actually have somebody other than the commissioner. The current system is this - the commissioner lays down the penalty and he hears the appeal. That's 100 percent wrong. At the very least, even though it's a terrible, awful situation, the players are actually going to be better for this because finally, they have a third party to challenge the commissioner's power. It's what they've always wanted.

WERTHEIMER: That's's Howard Bryant. Thank you, Howard.

BRYANT: Thank you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.