(CNN) -- Ray Rice took the first step toward a possible return to the football field Tuesday evening when the NFL players’ union announced it had filed an appeal of his indefinite suspension by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Goodell initially had suspended the running back for two games without pay and fined him the equivalent of another game’s pay. Rice was just a few days away from the end of the original suspension when the commissioner decided to increase the penalty to an indefinite suspension once he saw a video of Rice knocking out his now-wife with a punch earlier this year.
Two suspensions amount to penalizing Rice twice for the same event, the National Football League Players Association said.
The union said, “Under governing labor law, an employee cannot be punished twice for the same action when all of the relevant facts were available to the employer at the time of the first punishment.”
A third party should rule on the appeal, the union said.
“The NFLPA appeal is based on supporting facts that reveal a lack of a fair and impartial process, including the role of the office of the Commissioner of the NFL,” the union said in a written statement. “We have asked that a neutral and jointly selected arbitrator hear this case as the Commissioner and his staff will be essential witnesses in the proceeding and thus cannot serve as impartial arbitrators.”
The NFL did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.
Whether the 27-year-old Rice suits up this season—or ever again—in an NFL uniform is still a large question.
In the past, players appealing a suspension haven’t been able to take part in games, so an immediate return is unlikely. And there is the matter of Rice being a man without a team right now.
The former Baltimore Ravens star had his contract terminated by the team earlier this month in the wake of the disturbing video that shows him knocking out his Janay Rice on an elevator in a casino in Atlantic City on February 15.
Rice still can apply for reinstatement next August if he doesn’t win the appeal. But to get a chance to try out for a new team, he’ll have to convince the commissioner that he’s learned from his actions and paid a price.
Then he’ll have to convince a prospective club that he still has the skills that earned him three Pro Bowl selections.
It is unclear how long the appeal process will take, but under the terms of an agreement between NFL owners and players a date for a hearing must be scheduled with 10 days of the appeal.
“Typically, there has to be a fair level of discovery,” George Atallah, the assistant executive director of external affairs for the players’ union, said Monday. “There has to be a process by which we can both discover and present facts around his indefinite suspension. So there’s no set timetable for that.”
Atallah said the appeal would be pursued “methodically.”
In August, after outrage over Rice’s initial two-game suspension, Goodell announced a new league policy for domestic violence and other assaults. First-time offenders would be suspended at least six games and a second offense would draw a lifetime ban. But he didn’t alter Rice’s punishment at that time.
Ray Rice hasn’t spoken publicly since the indefinite suspension, but he texted CNN’s Rachel Nichols a message last week: “I’m just holding strong for my wife and kid, that’s all I can do right now.”
TMZ Sports obtained two videos from the footage taken from surveillance cameras of the altercation with Janay Rice in Atlantic City. It posted the first one, which showed Rice dragging Janay Rice—limp and face down—out of the elevator, shortly after the incident. The in-elevator video showing the violent punch was put online September 8.
Goodell told CBS last week that he was sickened by what he saw on the newly released video and that it was the first time he had seen the full scope of the incident.
He also deflected criticism of his handling of Rice’s case and his initial lenient penalty for the domestic violence incident.
“What we saw in the first videotape was troubling to us in and of itself,” Goodell said last week. “But what we saw yesterday was extremely clear. It was extremely graphic and it was sickening.”
Later, the NFL announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller would investigate how the league handled its investigation in the case.
One thing at the top of his list likely is an Associated Press report that a law enforcement official said he sent a DVD with a copy of the punch video in a package to an unnamed NFL executive in April. A woman called from an NFL office phone to confirm receipt of the package, the AP reported, citing a voice mail played for a reporter.
The league has said no one in its office had seen the video before September 8.
Goodell explained in a memo to NFL team owners that the league believed it would have been illegal to obtain the video because it was part of a criminal investigation in New Jersey. TMZ executive producer Harvey Levin indicated that the website paid for the video from someone who worked at the now-shuttered casino.
Rice was a three-time Pro Bowl selection in eight seasons. He played on the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl championship team in 2012 season.
NFLPA President Eric Winston said Rice should be allowed to play again
“I think so. I think that we’re all entitled to a second chance,” said Winston, who played last season with the Arizona Cardinals.
“Obviously he made a horrific mistake and he’s paying for it. He’s already disciplined once, and actually disciplined multiple times by the commissioner.”
CNN’s Marcus Hooper contributed to this report.
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