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NFL Players Union Files An Appeal To Ray Rice's Suspension

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The NFL Players Association, the union that represents athletes in the league, is appealing the punishment of the former Baltimore Ravens running back.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah, let's remember Rice was originally suspended for two games for hitting his then-fiancee, now wife. But after video surfaced of that incident and public outcry grew louder, the league made Rice' suspension indefinite.

CORNISH: We sat down with George Atallah, spokesman for the NFLPA, before news broke of the Minnesota Vikings latest move against Adrian Peterson. Atallah explained why the union is arguing that Ray Rice has grounds to appeal his indefinite ban from the league.

George Atallah, welcome to the program.

GEORGE ATALLAH: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So help us understand this appeal that has been filed on behalf of Ray Rice. What exactly is the union arguing here?

ATALLAH: The union is arguing that Ray Rice didn't necessarily have his fair due process rights and that he was punished twice for the same incident. He was given a two-game suspension, initially, for his actions at the casino with his wife, Janay. And if, in fact, the indefinite suspension came as a result of that same incident, that sets a very dangerous precedent for the rest of our membership. And that is one of the primary reasons why we're pursuing an appeal - not because we agree with the events that took place at the casino, but because the double jeopardy punishment and discipline that would be levied by the league has a precedent for all of our members.

CORNISH: To the casual fan, they'll see, in North Carolina, the Panthers letting defensive end Greg Hardy play the season opener even though he was found guilty of assaulting his girlfriend, the Vikings deactivating their running back, Adrian Peterson, after he was indicted on charges of abusing his 4-year-old son. It seems as though the punishments are uneven, ad hoc, arbitrary. Is this part of the problem for you?

ATALLAH: It's part of the problem for us indeed. And I believe that at the time of these incidents, we cannot be subjected, as an NFL community, as a business, to the whims of public pressure. That doesn't mean that these incidents aren't serious. That doesn't mean that we agree with the actions that have taken place. We have to preserve a measure of calm, a measure of deliberate action. And we do have to take steps to change some of this type of behavior.

CORNISH: But people might look at some of these cases and say, if it wasn't for public pressure, there wouldn't have been punitive action.

ATALLAH: We've always had incidents in the NFL, unfortunately, of player misconduct. There have been specific cases in the past where players have done bad things, and they've been disciplined and punished, both under the NFL conduct policy and through the legal system. We just have to make sure that these cases are not arbitrary and, frankly, that we do more proactively.

CORNISH: George Atallah, I don't know if you've actually seen this surveillance video, from the Atlantic City casino, showing Ray Rice assaulting his now wife. Is this case, Ray Rice, the one that the union wants to plant a flag in and defend?

ATALLAH: Our union is not defending the actions that took place in the elevator. Our union is defending the rights of all players by making an attempt to understand if fair due process rights under our collective bargaining agreement were infringed upon. I am a husband. I am a father of two daughters. I'm a son, and I'm a brother of a younger sister. The actions in that video, personally, to me, were very disturbing. And there's no place for that in our society.

CORNISH: What do you say, though, to the casual fan, to women who look at this league and are disappointed?

ATALLAH: I would say to them that we're disappointed too. And whenever I get discouraged by player misconduct of any kind, I tend to look at the positives that our players do. And it sounds a little bit like a cliche, but the overwhelming majority of our players are good husbands, good fathers, good citizens in their communities. And they contribute a lot. And I look at those players, not just in terms of their jerseys and their helmets on Sundays, Monday nights and, now, Thursday nights. I look at their actions off the field. And I'm encouraged that we, as an NFL community, can help to bring some of these changes in our society.

CORNISH: George Atallah, thank you so much for coming into the studio to speak with us.

ATALLAH: Thanks very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.