(SportsNetwork.com) - A rare win on the appeals front may turn out to be anything but for NFL players when it comes to personal-conduct issues in the future.
Ray Rice was reinstated from his indefinite suspension Friday for one reason, a true objective arbiter in retired U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones heard the appeal.
"This decision is a victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent," the NFLPA said in a statement after the ruling. "This union will always stand up and fight for the due process rights of our players. While we take no pleasure in seeing a decision that confirms what we have been saying about the commissioner's office acting arbitrarily, we hope that this will bring the NFL owners to the collective bargaining table to fix a broken process."
Jones, who heard the appeal earlier this month, ruled that Rice did not mislead NFL commissioner Roger Goodell when the running back met with the league on June 16.
Goodell initially suspended Rice for two games or violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy over the incident, but later banned him indefinitely following the release of video footage that sparked public outrage.
It looked like double jeopardy on the surface and Jones only buoyed that argument explaining Goodell had no new evidence after handing out the first punishment before bowing to public pressure and arbitrarily changing it.
"I do not doubt that viewing the video in September evoked horror in commissioner Goodell as it did with the public," Jones said. "But this does not change the fact that Rice did not lie or mislead the NFL at the June 16 meeting.
"Because Rice did not mislead the commissioner and because there were no new facts on which the commissioner could base his increased suspension, I find that the imposition of the indefinite suspension was arbitrary. I therefore vacate the second penalty imposed on Rice."
The NFLPA argued the league violated labor laws by increasing Rice's punishment after the video surfaced. Goodell spent most of his time under cross-examination by outside players union attorney Jeffrey Kessler.
Rice is no less a pariah today and this ruling was strictly a salvo toward Goodell and the NFL's flawed process when it comes to personal-conduct issues.
"Any failure on the part of the league to understand the level of violence was not due to Rice's description of the event, but to the inadequacy of words to convey the seriousness of domestic violence," Jones wrote. "That the league did not realize the severity of the conduct without a visual record also speaks to their admitted failure in the past to sanction this type of conduct more severely."
Others were far more harsh than Jones in their assessments.
"Second punishments for the same conduct are unprecedented and not permitted as a matter of basic and fundamental principle," lawyer Peter Ginsberg, who has often tangled with the NFL in court, said. "Perhaps now, finally, NFL owners will give real thought to whether the 'NFL shield' should tolerate a leader who fails to lead in important areas like domestic violence and who time and again ignores the League's workers' due process rights and the right to be treated with fundamental fairness.
"There are many lessons to be learned from this unfortunate event -- Ray (Rice) is well on his way to learning his from this awful event. Time will tell whether the NFL and NFL owners are learning theirs as well."
Any hopes that the league got any message were quickly quashed by NFL general counsel Jeff Pash in a memo sent to league executives after the decision.
"No part of Judge Jones's decision questions the Commissioner's honesty or integrity, nor his good faith consideration of the issue when he imposed the indefinite suspension on Mr. Rice," Pash wrote. "Nor is there any suggestion that the Commissioner had seen the video from inside the elevator before it became public, or knew of the contents of the video."
Nice try Jeff but by explaining Rice told the truth about the incident back in June, Jones plainly contradicts Goodell's assessment that the former Ravens star was vague in describing it. And to put it more bluntly, if Rice was telling the truth, Goodell wasn't.
"Roger Goodell has shown once again that he does not follow the rules in his treatment of players and that his judgment cannot be trusted" Ginsberg said. "Under his leadership, the NFL ignored for years the need to create a stronger and more constructive program to address domestic abuse.
"But rather than admitting he had been ignoring the domestic violence issue for years, and had failed to subject past violators to real scrutiny, Commissioner Goodell turned his own failings on Ray by punishing him a second time for an offense about which Commissioner Goodell had been fully and completely aware when he imposed the original suspension. That action threatened to end Ray's career. And in so doing, Commissioner Goodell ignored the basic principle that every worker must be treated in a manner consistent with past punishments and in accordance with published procedures."
Despite the growing criticism Goodell and the league he lords over remain as deaf as ever, however.
"The decision has no bearing on the current work on a revised Personal Conduct Policy, nor on the initiatives announced by the Commissioner on August 28 regarding domestic violence and sexual assault," Pash told the league's executive. "Similarly, the decision is limited to Ray Rice and should have no effect on any other pending or prospective disciplinary matters."
Take notice of that last statement and look at who is scheduled to hear the Adrian Peterson appeal, Goodell rubber stamp Harold Henderson.
"We are confident that the issues addressed by Judge Jones will not be part of future disciplinary decisions of the Commissioner," Pash continued. "We will of course review the decision in detail to identify any other aspects that can be addressed within the comprehensive revision of the Personal Conduct Policy that is now underway."
The NFL is confident because the only real review of its personal-conduct policy came up with one answer -- stay away from independent minds who reject tortured rational.