By Steve Ginsburg
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former U.S. District judge was appointed Thursday by the National Football League to hear an appeal filed by Ray Rice, a former Baltimore Ravens running back suspended indefinitely for knocking out his future wife.
The NFL has been heavily criticized over its handling of the Rice episode and other domestic abuse cases involving its players.
Former Judge Barbara Jones, who served in the Southern District of New York from 1996 to 2013, has agreed to hear the appeal, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
"We are grateful to Judge Jones for taking on this role," Goodell said. "She will have our full cooperation as she hears and decides this appeal."
Jones is currently a partner in the law firm of Zuckerman Spaeder. The NFL and NFL Players Association collaborated on the selection, both sides said.
Rice was originally suspended for two games for punching his then-fiancee during an argument at a New Jersey casino in February. But when a video emerged showing the knockout punch last month, the Ravens released Rice and Goodell suspended him indefinitely.
The union claims that Rice, 29, a six-year veteran of the NFL, is being sentenced twice for the same offense. Goodell's statement did not say when the appeal would be heard.
Goodell's original two-game suspension was widely seen as too light for the crime, and the league has since strengthened its penalties for domestic abuse.
Several other players, including former Most Valuable Player Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings and Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers, have been linked to domestic violence since the Rice incident came to light.
Peterson, charged with child abuse for punishing his 4-year-old son with a tree branch, and Hardy, who is appealing his conviction for assaulting his girlfriend, are sidelined until their legal cases are resolved.
(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Eric Beech)