On the same day the in-elevator video showing running back Ray Rice’s assault on his then-fiancée (now wife) emerged, the Ravens cut Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely, less than an hour apart.
In November, a former federal judge scuttled the NFL’s action against Rice. On Thursday, Rice’s attack against the team’s decision heads to a hearing, with more than $3.5 million hanging in the balance.
According to the Baltimore Sun, arbitrator Shyam Das will preside over the question of whether the Ravens’ decision to terminate Rice’s employment violates Article 46, Section 4 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement: “The Commissioner and a Club will not both discipline a player for the same act or conduct. The Commissioner’s disciplinary action will preclude or supersede disciplinary action by any Club for the same act or conduct.”
The Commissioner suspended Rice for two games in July for the assault. Throughout the process, the Ravens stood behind Rice. Even after the NFL announced the two-game ban, the Ravens publicly supported him.
“We know what it is to be a parent,” Ravens P.R. chief Kevin Byrne wrote for the team’s website after the two-game suspension was announced. “We know what it is to support a child after a mistake. We know the importance of turning the situation around and becoming better. We know turning your back on a loved one in a time of need is not what families do.”
That family abruptly turned its back on Rice the same day the in-elevator video was released — and only four days before Rice’s two-game suspension was set to end.
The league and those who defend and support its broad powers will say that teams can cut players for any reason and at any time. Paragraph 11 of the Standard Player Contract permits the team to cut a player “[i]f at any time, in the sole judgment of Club, Player’s skill or performance has been unsatisfactory as compared with that of other players competing for positions on Club’s roster.” Paragraph 11 also allows termination “if, in Club’s opinion, Player is anticipated to make less of a contribution to Club’s ability to compete on the playing field than another player or players whom Club intends to sign or attempts to sign, or another player or players who is or are already on Club’s roster, and for whom Club needs room.”
Then there’s the provision from Paragraph 11 that the Ravens could have — and arguably should have — relied upon perhaps within days after the February 15 incident: “[I]f Player has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely effect or reflect on Club, then Club may terminate this contract.”
Those words, standing alone, would definitely permit Rice to be cut. However, Paragraph 21 of the Standard Player Contract states that the CBA “will take precedence over conflicting provisions of this contract relating to the rights or obligations of either party.” In other words, the ability to cut a player for misconduct is superseded by Article 46, Section 4, which permits only one punishment.
For the Ravens, then, the choices are fairly limited. First, they can try to argue that cutting a player for conduct that adversely effects or reflects on the team doesn’t constitute an effort to punish the player but an attempt to help the team get beyond an embarrassing episode. Cutting against that argument will be the team’s strong and persistent public support for Rice at a time when, as demonstrated by Robert Mueller’s report, the team knew a lot more about what exactly happened in the elevator.
Put simply, the Ravens endured the embarrassment (and contributed to it, via that ill-advised pre-Memorial Day weekend press conference during which Janay Palmer Rice apologized for her role in getting knocked out) as long as the stark details of the assault were hidden from public view. Once a video showing an action that the Ravens knew for months had occurred, the team suddenly could no longer tolerate Rice’s presence on the team. It’s hard to imagine a fair-minded arbitrator endorsing that behavior.
Second, the Ravens can try to argue that Rice’s skill or performance has been unsatisfactory, or that they anticipated he would make less of a contribution than another player once reinstated only four days later. They’d have to be able to account for the coincidental nature of cutting him for football reasons only hours after the in-elevator video emerged. And to that we say, “Good luck.”
Common sense suggests that the Ravens cut Rice simply because of the video — a video that the Ravens could have seen, should have seen, and probably didn’t need to see. If they can cobble together an argument that the “personal conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely effect or reflect on Club” language from Paragraph 11 of the Standard Player Contract somehow overrides or operates independently of Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, fine. But if the Ravens try to argue that the move was based solely on football, it’s hard to imagine anyone believing it, and the Ravens deserve to be criticized heavily for advancing a false reason to justify the decision to cut him.
Of course, it’ll be easy for the Ravens to internally justify throwing any plausible argument at the wall. Rice wants another $3.5 million from a team that paid him $25 million from July 2012 through December 2013. The Ravens surely believe it’s not right for Rice to get the extra money. Sometimes, strong beliefs about what’s right can lead a company to do something that objectively can be characterized as wrong.
UPDATE 9:04 a.m. ET: Per a league source, the Rice grievance has been settled.