Ray Rice Scandal Has Roger Goodell Hanging by a Thread

Roger Goodell on May 8 Photograph by Elsa/Getty Images

A law enforcement official in New Jersey says he sent a video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée Janay in an Atlantic City hotel elevator months ago, according to the Associated Press. Citing an unnamed source, the AP reviewed audio from a 12-second voicemail on April 9, left by a person in the National Football League’s office; the voice confirms receipt of the video and says, “You’re right. It’s terrible.” The report contradicts NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s claim, reiterated to CBS Evening News on Tuesday, that nobody at the NFL had seen the video before TMZ made it public on Monday.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello (echoed by his colleague Brian McCarthy) said this of the AP story: “We have no knowledge of this. We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it.”

The AP reports that the law enforcement official sent the NFL a copy of the video (without authorization) precisely so the league could take it into consideration in punishing Rice. If someone at the NFL got it and sat on it, the league office is a risk-management disaster. Or maybe Goodell is lying. Either way, his job, which seemed safe on Wednesday morning, now appears very much at risk.

In July, the NFL suspended Rice for two games for the February incident. A month later, after a barrage of criticism, Goodell sent a memo to league owners acknowledging that he had been too lenient. “I didn’t get it right,” he wrote. After video of the punch became public this week, Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely. The league justified the move based on the “new video evidence,” although by that point Goodell had already seen the first video, released by TMZ in February, of Rice dragging his now-wife from the elevator, and he already knew that Rice had knocked her out.

Goodell’s best hope now is that the AP got it wrong. “I do not believe the AP report,” says Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm SportsCorp and a confidant to many NFL owners. “Until someone names a name at the NFL … how is there any validity to the story?” Ganis says that the league owners he’s spoken with are still squarely behind Goodell. It would take 25 of them, by league rules, to vote him out. The bigger question now is whether Goodell will wait around to let them.

UPDATE: The NFL has announced that it is launching an independent investigation into its handling of the Ray Rice incident lead by former FBI director Robert Mueller.

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