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Ray Rice Can Play Pro Football Again, But Will He?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Ray Rice can play football again - will he? A former federal judge ruled that the ex-Baltimore Ravens running back told the truth to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that he had punched his then fiancee Janay Rice, who is now his wife, in a hotel elevator in Atlantic City, and that the NFL could not punish him twice and suspend him for the season. Howard Bryant, of ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com, joins us from the studios of New England Public Radio. Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Judge Barbara Jones essentially says Ray Rice beat his wife and he told that to the commissioner of football, who didn't take it seriously. What do you see in this decision?

BRYANT: Well, I don't think it makes Ray Rice innocent. It certainly does expose Roger Goodell as being guilty in this. The entire basis of the suspension had been that Goodell had told the public that Ray Rice had misled him about what took place in the elevator.

And as it turns out, it was Roger Goodell who ended up misleading the public because he had been - he had underestimated the outcry of the public. I think he had completely underestimated the backlash. And instead of accepting that and instead of saying that the NFL's domestic policies - domestic violence policies - were inadequate, he blamed the players, as he has done in the past, and tried to suspend him indefinitely.

And I think what the judge was saying was that it was the NFL whose policies have been inadequate and that Roger Goodell had completely misled the nation, which was really too bad on this because I think that the problem is the public is really the winner here because it was the public pressure that really forced this action. If Roger Goodell had had his way, Ray Rice would've only served two games.

SIMON: Quick question - Ray Rice is a three-time Pro Bowler, but does any team really want him?

BRYANT: Well, this is a really good question. I think it goes back to what do we think of ourselves and what do we think of the league and what does the league think of itself? Is it a league of second chances? It gave Michael Vick a second chance. There have been many, many players. If you look at the NFL's domestic violence policies, there've been 56-55 previous cases where the players have gone unpunished. So in those general manager's offices across the league, are they saying no, this player is toxic for that video and for what he actually did? Or are they saying we're in a business of success and results and here's a guy who can help us and will allow ourselves the narrative of a second chance? We'll see how different that video plays. And what team - what team wants the public backlash of bringing him in and having him wear their jersey?

SIMON: And after Judge Jones says that the NFL commissioner isn't telling the truth, can he continue?

BRYANT: Well, I've never thought that this was a subject where Roger Goodell would survive. I felt like this was the kind of issue that you take for granted and then you realize the severity of it and then it's too late. Roger Goodell earns $44 million a year. I think that in addition to him being admonished by Judge Jones on this, it's also going to send - I think it's going to put an end to the days when the commissioner has complete control over discipline, which means it's really weakening his office. That's a huge blow for him because the players, I believe, have been fighting for this for a long time, but have never stuck together. Now, finally, this issue is going to be the thing that takes power away from him.

SIMON: And in the half a minute we have left, a question for us - I would love to watch Brady v. Rogers tomorrow - the Patriots versus the Packers - but does anyone who watches the NFL this season, are we aiding and abetting enablers of domestic violence?

BRYANT: Well, I think that by watching the NFL - I think it's really hard place that we're all in, not only is it domestic violence because of the way that they've approached this, but also in terms of concussions and head trauma and dementia and everything else. There's a price that we pay for watching this sport. And this is the dilemma that we have when you look at the game. How much are we complicit for our enjoyment?

SIMON: Howard Bryant, of ESPN, thanks so much.

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