The Focus on Whether NFL Saw Ray Rice Videotape Distracts from Larger Issues

By Jason Lisk

“Between us – DV is DV and if the Commissioner is going to come down hard on the guy he should do so; I don’t care who started the incident.”

That was sent by e-mail from John Raucci, the NFL’s Director of Investigative Services, a few days after the Ray Rice elevator assault at an Atlantic City casino, to the local investigator, James Buckley. The NFL was in the early stages of figuring out what had happened, after seeing the “outside the elevator” video that first emerged.

Yet, here we are nearly a full year later, and the Mueller Report has successfully done one thing: move the goalposts. Whether the NFL did or did not see the video before TMZ released it is relevant only to the narrow issue of whether there have been misrepresentations on that issue. The Mueller report says it can’t find evidence of that.

The virtual ink was barely dry, though, before John Mara and Art Rooney II released a public statement on the matter in support of Goodell, something that could easily have been penned when the report was commissioned.

“It is clear to us that Commissioner Goodell was forthright in the statements he made to the owners about this matter, and we have every confidence that Roger Goodell is the right person to lead the league as we move forward.”

Was he? Back in September, he sent a letter to ownership, saying that “We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator. That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today.”

and later:

“We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including any video that may exist. We spoke to members of the New Jersey State Police and reached out multiple times to the Atlantic City Police Department and the Atlantic County prosecutor’s office. That video was not made available to us and no one in our office saw it until yesterday,” the league later said in a second statement.

People have focused on the part about viewing the tape, but how forthright was the rest of that statement? It’s a lot more ambiguous than something else–Ray Rice’s testimony to Goodell, and what Goodell should have known.

Goodell basically intimated to ownership that everything possible was done to obtain the video as part of reviewing the case. Not even the most generous reading of the Mueller report supports that.

It’s noted that investigator Buckley called the Atlantic City Police Department requesting the arrest report and told it would not be provided, within days of the incident. At the time, there was no request for video, as e-mails show internal discussions after that about whether a video might exist.

Goodell had said in the letter that requests had been made in February. There was a reference from February to Jeffrey Miller having a luncheon with New Jersey State Police, but no reference–and no recollection from him–about whether it was formally requested. It appears he just wanted to confirm that video existed, and the details are not laid out. (Miller appears a poor historian, often disputing written statements in contemporaneous e-mails in February, such as the existence of a source).

The only reference to potentially asking for video–from one law enforcement agency- was in a May note from investigator Buckley, after Rice had resolved his criminal matter, saying “[r]eportedly, the AC Prosecutors Office has more video than what appeared through the media/website but the ACPO would not provide what the video shows.”

“Ambiguous”, meanwhile, is what the forthcoming Goodell called Ray Rice’s testimony at the June hearing, but that was shot down by Judge Barbara Jones, in finding that Ray Rice told the truth at the hearing.

Interestingly, Mueller punts on that issue in a move that would make Jim Caldwell proud.

"“It is not necessary for us to address those findings [about Rice telling the truth at the June hearing] or the evidence supporting them because our investigation was not directed to the appropriateness of the discipline imposed in either July or September.”"

While the appropriateness of specific terms of punishment may not be an issue, whether Goodell mischaracterized testimony or soft peddled the evidence should certainly have been discussed within a report looking into the league’s handling of the matter. The Mara-Rooney statement is laughable when this report did not in any way change or challenge that finding.

And what should Roger Goodell have known at that June hearing?

The Mueller report details several things that would, could, or should have been viewed by Goodell before he even sat down in a room with Ray Rice and took few notes in June of this year.

  • Goodell was noted as having seen the initial stories, which described it as “horrific”, that it “shocked the conscience”, that “he knocked her out with one punch” and “dragged her out like a limp noodle.”
  • In an e-mail, Raucci told the NFL’s Senior Labor Relations Counsel as information was first coming in: “It is an Internet feeding frenzy. He either punched a female acquaintance or knocked out, with one-single punch to the head, his fiancée.”
  • The NFL did have, according to the Mueller Report, the original complaint/summons. That document charges Rice with “striking [Palmer] with his hand, rendering her unconscious,” and the press release of that document indicated that the arresting officers had viewed a video.
  • Goodell also received this direct e-mail from Adolpho Birch within a week of the incident: “Cmr | If you can pull it up, here’s the link to the video showing the fiancée unconscious etc. Media today is reporting that there is also a video of him delivering the blow that knocked her out.” [emphasis ours]

These were all things that were available for Goodell to read, or for his top leadership to provide.

My major criticism of Roger Goodell’s discipline policy–and I’m not alone–is that it is often arbitrary. Did he like the cut of your jib when you shook his hand when called to the principal’s office? Do you have supporters among those who have his ear? (Rice, as you will recall, was supported by the Ravens’ front office).

In this case, the video would have told a story: one that was easily apparent based on what the NFL already knew or should have known. But hey, maybe they didn’t see it, and we’ll never find who this woman who supposedly called the AP’s law enforcement source, so all is good. Never mind those other things buried in the report that the Mueller Report didn’t want to directly address.