WASHINGTON (Reuters) - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, under fire for his handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case, said on Thursday he appointed a former federal judge not affiliated with the league to hear the player’s appeal of his suspension.
The players’ union, which collaborated with the league on the appointment, said it was the first time a person without ties to the National Football League was named to hear an appeal in a personal conduct case.
Goodell said Barbara Jones, who served as a U.S. district judge in the Southern District of New York from 1996 to 2013, had agreed to hear the appeal.
The commissioner or a person appointed by him had been scheduled to hear the case, but the union called the commissioner a potential witness and requested that Rice’s appeal be resolved by a neutral party.
Rice was originally suspended for two games for punching his then-fiancee during an argument at a New Jersey casino in February. But when a video emerged last month showing the knockout punch, the Ravens released Rice and Goodell suspended him indefinitely.
The union says that Rice, 29, a six-year veteran of the NFL, is being sentenced twice for the same offense. Goodell’s statement did not say when the appeal would be heard.
“We are grateful to Judge Jones for taking on this role,” Goodell said. “She will have our full cooperation as she hears and decides this appeal.”
Jones is currently a partner in the law firm of Zuckerman Spaeder.
The original two-game suspension handed down by Goodell was widely seen as too light, and the league has since strengthened its penalties for domestic abuse.
Several other players, including former Most Valuable Player Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings and Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers, are also involved in domestic violence cases.
Peterson, charged with child abuse for punishing his 4-year-old son with a tree branch, and Hardy, who is appealing his conviction for assaulting his girlfriend, are sidelined until their legal cases are resolved.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Eric Beech and Peter Cooney