(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 stiffen the penalty once he saw a video of Rice knocking out his now-wife with a punch earlier this year.
The National Football League Players Association said that two suspensions amount to penalizing Rice twice for the same event.
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.”
The NFLPA called for a third party to rule on the appeal.
“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 his now-wife with a punch.
If he wins the appeal, Rice could sign with a team once the suspension ends. But would any team take that risk this season?
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.
“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.