By now you’ve probably heard of Ray Rice, for all the wrong reasons. He is the NFL player who landed the box-felt-round-the-world on his then fiancée which left her unconscious in a hotel elevator in Atlantic City. The brutal knockout was caught on camera but Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, only saw the footage months after imposing a 2-game ban on Rice. Now he’s hit the star player with an indefinite suspension and the Players Union is calling foul.
Whilst the NFL is more of a regulator than an employer the tenets of due process required of both roles is largely the same. If this had happened in Jamaica, the Union would surely prevail, and here are five reasons why.
1.The NFL didn’t conduct a thorough investigation
There were 2 videos of this incident, The one that Goodell saw before imposing a 2-game ban was seen in February of this year and showed footage taken immediately after the hit, outside the elevator. You can see Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée, Janay Palmer, out of the elevator into the hallway where she slowly comes to. The video from inside the elevator is the one that shows Sugar Ray’s left hook. It was obtained and released by TMZ earlier this month but according to the hotel, was always available to the NFL had they simply requested it. In fact, Rice’s lawyer had a copy of the tape all along. One of the fundamental principles of industrial relations law and practice is that the employer has a responsibility to conduct a reasonably thorough investigation before taking disciplinary action against a worker. The investigation should extend to all factual matters that are in dispute or that are likely to affect the employer’s decision, whether positively or negatively. In interviews given to the media, Goodell claimed that the NFL asked the police for the video and was denied on the basis of it being evidence in a criminal complaint. But one doesn’t get the sense that the Commissioner was too keen on seeing the tape and was prepared to make a decision based on incomplete material.
2. The NFL disciplined an employee twice for the same offence
This is one of the main grounds of appeal being put forward by the Union. The League suspended Rice for 2 games knowing at the time that he knocked out the young lady. Why does seeing the actual punch “change everything” as the Commissioner said after handing down the heavier sentence? Perhaps it’s because the violence itself is a serious offence but so too is bringing the game into disrepute, which, arguably, was made much worse when the video was publicly released. On the other hand, the League has probably brought more shame on itself by its handling of the matter than Rice did with his man-handling of his lady.
Goodell has also suggested that Rice’s version of events from inside the elevator is not consistent with what was shown on the video, which could give rise to a separate offence involving dishonesty or obstructing an investigation. The NFL has not sought to go this route, however. The Commissioner has accepted responsibility for not getting the punishment right in the first instance and for basing his decision on the meeting he held with Rice and Palmer instead of on objective video evidence. This appears to be a clear case of double-jeopardy and could undermine the entire disciplinary process.