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Ray Rice Suspended: A Bad Tweet and Grounds for Appeal?

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By William Peacock, Esq. on September 09, 2014 8:23 AM

You've probably heard about the inevitable development of the Ray Rice saga. The NFL Pro Bowl running back, who was cut by the Ravens yesterday, was previously suspended for two games after he was charged with felony domestic violence. A video of the aftermath of the incident -- Ray dragging his unconscious fiancé (now wife) out of an elevator -- emerged, creating quite the public relations nightmare, but little in the way of actual consequences.

Ray Rice copped a plea for a pre-trial deterrence program, the NFL suspended him for two games, and the Ravens stood behind him -- until yesterday, when TMZ leaked a video of Ray beating Janay Rice inside the elevator. The incident has created a number of issues: public relations nightmares and collective bargaining/labor law questions.

Here's a Tip: Have Legal Staff Review Tweets During Crises

I just, I can't even... who, after Ray Rice was suspended for knocking her out cold, thought it was a good idea to have a news conference where both the victim, Janay Rice, and her now-husband, the then-Ravens' star running back, both apologized for their part in the fracas.

And by fracas, I mean Ray backhanding her twice, causing her to fall and smash her head against the elevator railing:

And then, after having the press conference, the Ravens sent this tweet on May 23. It was finally, thankfully deleted yesterday after the video of the beating surfaced.

I know: There's probably no legal issue for sending a stupid, tone-deaf, victim-blaming tweet. But maybe, when you're in a PR crisis, your team's social media accounts should have a member of the legal or PR team reviewing tweets. Just sayin'.

Actual Legal Issues: The 2nd Suspension

Curiously, though the league had already doled out its punishment, it revised its ruling yesterday in light of the now-public video. The league and team both claimed that they had never before seen the video, with Coach John Harbaugh telling the media that "It wasn't made available. It wasn't there for us."

"It's something we saw for the first time today, all of us," Harbaugh said. "It changed things, of course. It made things a little bit different."

The Ravens cut Rice outright, while the league suspended him indefinitely -- a punishment that is sure to deter any team that would otherwise be tempted to overlook the domestic violence incident.

Teams are allowed to cut players for pretty much any reason, as contracts in the NFL are not guaranteed. However, league suspensions usually have to be backed by some justification, even if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell does have wide latitude in determining the magnitude of the punishment.

As Professor Michael McCann, writing for Sports Illustrated, explains, under its collective bargaining agreement, the league has extremely broad authority to suspend players, or extend suspensions, under the personal conduct policy. However, Article 46 of the CBA states that neither the NFL nor a team can punish a player twice for the same conduct or act.

Is video of the punch different than video of him dragging her unconscious body out of the elevator? Probably not. There might be some argument that Rice was lying or withholding information, and that the video justifies a suspension for the dishonesty itself, but that really is dancing on the line of double-punishment. Plus, there were rumors of more video footage back when the first video, of the dragging, surfaced.

In other words: We're not expecting this incident to go away any time soon.

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