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Ray Rice wins appeal, immediately eligible to return

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has taken a big step toward a possible return to the NFL.

NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport first reported Friday that Rice won his appeal, a decision that lifts his indefinite suspension from the league, according to a source directly involved in the situation. Rice is immediately eligible to return to action.

The NFL Media Group obtained Judge Barbara S. Jones' summary and decision in which Jones ruled that Rice did not mislead Commissioner Roger Goodell, and therefore, should not have been disciplined beyond the initial two-game suspension with an additional fine of one week's salary.

"In this arbitration, the NFL argues that Commissioner Goodell was misled when he disciplined Rice the first time," Jones wrote in her decision. "Because, after careful consideration of all of the evidence, I am not persuaded that Rice lied to, or misled, the NFL at his June interview, I find that the indefinite suspension was an abuse of discretion and must be vacated."

Rice becomes a free agent who is eligible to sign with any team. He released a statement on the decision Friday:

"I would like to thank Judge Barbara Jones, the NFL Players Association, my attorneys, agents, advisors, family, friends and fans -- but most importantly, my wife Janay," the statement read. "I made an inexcusable mistake and accept full responsibility for my actions. I am thankful that there was a proper appeals process in place to address this issue. I will continue working hard to improve myself and be the best husband, father and friend, while giving back to my community and helping others to learn from my mistakes."

The NFL commented on the decision Friday:

"We respect Judge Jones's decision to reinstate Ray Rice from his indefinite suspension for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy in an incident of domestic violence. Ray Rice is a free agent and has been eligible to be signed by an NFL team since he was released by the Ravens. Based on Judge Jones' decision, he will be eligible to play upon signing a new contract."

The union also addressed the matter:

"This decision is a victory for a disciplinary process that is fair and transparent. This union will always stand up and fight for the due process rights of our players. We take no pleasure in seeing a decision that confirms what we have been saying about the Commissioner's office acting arbitrarily. The only remaining action is for NFL owners to embrace a fair process with a neutral arbitrator in all cases. The players thank Judge Barbara Jones for her time and thoroughness in this matter."

Rice had filed the appeal to overturn the indefinite suspension handed down by the NFL at the beginning of the season after video footage surfaced of him striking his then-fiancée in an Atlantic City elevator. The decision follows a two-day appeal hearing -- and hours of testimony -- that took place earlier this month in New York.

The basis of the running back's argument, as NFL Media's Judy Battista reported in the hearing's wake, was that Rice was subjected to double jeopardy when the league indefinitely suspended him after footage inside the elevator was made public. He was released by the Ravens shortly thereafter.

Rice believes that the NFL received no new information when the video became public -- and that Goodell knew all the details at the time of the original decision. Jones agreed.