(Reuters) - The Baltimore Ravens released Ray Rice on Monday after a video surfaced showing the three-time Pro Bowl running back punching his then-fiancee during an argument earlier this year.
A previously released video showed Rice dragging an unconscious Janay Palmer from an elevator at an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino, but the new one was taken from inside the elevator.
The video, published on the website TMZ, showed Rice punching Palmer, who is now Rice’s wife, and her falling face down on the elevator floor. She appeared to smack her head on the elevator railing before slumping to the ground.
“The Baltimore Ravens terminated the contract of RB Ray Rice this afternoon,” the team said in a one-sentence statement.
A short time later, the National Football League also took action against Rice, who was entering his seventh NFL season.
“Commissioner Roger Goodell has announced that based on the new video evidence that became available today he has imposed an indefinite suspension on Ray Rice,” the league said in a statement.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh spoke to reporters later on Monday, saying he had not previously seen the video.
“It’s something we saw for the first time today, you know, all of us. And it changed things, of course. It made things a little bit different,” Harbaugh said.
When asked by a reporter if he felt betrayed by Rice after viewing the video, Harbaugh defended his former player.
“Everything I said in terms of what I believe, I stand by. I believe that still. And I’ll always believe those things, and we’ll always stand in support of them as a couple. And that’s not going to change,” he said.
During the summer, Harbaugh had said: ”I stand behind Ray.
“He’s a heck of a guy. He’s done everything right since. He made a mistake.”
An NFL spokesman said the league had not seen the new video before suspending the 27-year-old Rice for two games, a punishment widely seen as too lenient.
“We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an email.
“That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today.”
Rice and Palmer eventually married, a day after he was indicted by a grand jury on third-degree aggravated assault.
After Palmer declined to testify against her husband, the charges were dropped and he agreed to court-supervised counseling.
Jay McKeen, a spokesman for the Atlantic County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office, said on Monday that officials anticipate bringing no further criminal charges against Rice related to the incident pending his completion of the counseling program and other conditions of the earlier agreement.
The two-game suspension and $500,000 fine given to Rice by Goodell sparked a firestorm of criticism.
Goodell conceded afterward that “I didn’t get it right,” and helped pushed through changes in the league’s policy for domestic abuse by players, making the sanctions much harsher.
Fourteen-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez, who retired in 2013, tweeted: “Absolutely disgusted with the tape I saw of Ray Rice and his then fiancé. The Ravens did the right thing by cutting him.”
The image-conscious NFL has been roundly criticized for its handling of the incident, as Goodell appeared to underestimate the frenzy caused by the assault.
“What makes the NFL look especially bad in this case is the sense that the only reason they suspended Ray Rice indefinitely was to save face, rather than to actually address or punish the problem at hand,” said Boston College Associate Professor of Marketing Adam Brasel.
”Do people think the NFL would have done the same if they got the footage internally rather than having the whole world see it on TMZ?
“Especially given that the previous footage was shocking enough in and of itself, today’s response seems more like damage control and an attempt at PR spin that’s too little, too late.”
U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the video on Monday, saying that “hitting a woman is not something a real man does.”
Rice had the worst season of his NFL career in 2013, averaging 3.1 yards per carry. It was unclear if anyone would take a chance on signing Rice, who is now a free agent.
“I made the biggest mistake of my life,” Rice said in a news conference when the Ravens returned to camp in late July. “I want to own it.”
Rice signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Ravens in 2012 and helped Baltimore win the Super Bowl at the end of that season.
The Ravens were embroiled in another controversy in 2000 when Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis was indicted for murder following a Super Bowl party.
Charges against Lewis were eventually dismissed in exchange for his testimony against his companions, and Lewis ultimately became one of the most beloved figures in Baltimore sports history.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Eric Beech, Peter Cooney, Lisa Shumaker and Ken Wills