Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice received a two-game suspension from the NFL on Thursday following his off-season arrest for domestic violence.
Rice will miss the season opener against AFC North champion Cincinnati on Sept. 7 and the Sept. 11 game on Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The six-year veteran was arrested following a Feb. 15 altercation in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in which he allegedly struck then-fiancee Janay Palmer. The 27-year-old Rice has been accepted into a diversion program, which upon completion could lead to the charges being expunged.
Rice met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last month after joining the diversion program. Goodell ultimately decided to suspend the running back for two games without pay and fine him an additional game check "for conduct detrimental to the NFL in violation of the league's Personal Conduct Policy."
Despite the court's decision not to impose criminal punishment, "the Commissioner determined, as he advised Rice, that the conduct was incompatible with NFL policies and warranted disciplinary action."
In a letter to Rice, Goodell wrote: "As you acknowledged during our meeting, your conduct was unquestionably inconsistent with league polices and the standard of behaviour required of everyone who is part of the NFL. The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game. This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women."
Rice's suspension will begin on Aug. 30. He will be eligible for reinstatement Sept. 12 after the Pittsburgh game. Rice may participate in all aspects of training camp and preseason games.
"It is disappointing that I will not be with my teammates for the first two games of the season, but that's my fault," Rice said in a statement issued by the Ravens. "As I said earlier, I failed in many ways. But, Janay and I have learned from this. We have become better as a couple and as parents. I am better because of everything we have experienced since that night. The counselling has helped tremendously."
Rice is the team's career leader in total scrimmage yards and ranks behind only Jamal Lewis in total yards rushing.
Bernard Pierce is expected to start for Rice in Baltimore's first two games.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement: "We appreciate the thorough process the league office used to evaluate the incident with Ray Rice. The time the Commissioner spent with Ray and Janay is typical of the extra steps the NFL takes when making decisions regarding discipline issues. While not having Ray for the first two games is significant to our team, we respect the league's decision and believe it is fair."
He added, "We also respect the efforts Ray has made to become the best partner and father he can be. That night was not typical of the Ray Rice we know and respect. We believe that he will not let that one night define who he is, and he is determined to make sure something like this never happens again."
Rice's teammates were not stunned by the news of the suspension.
"You knew something was going to happen," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "I'll be glad when those two games are up."
Coach John Harbaugh said, "It's part of the process. There are consequences when you make a mistake; we'll move forward."
Rice participated Thursday in Baltimore's first full-squad practice. Before that session began, the Ravens lost cornerback Aaron Ross for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, a mishap that occurred during his conditioning test.