Former FBI Director to Probe Rice Case Amid NFL Video QuestionsEben Novy-Williams and Erik Matuszewski
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller will conduct an independent probe into the National Football League’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said last night in a news release.
The announcement came hours after the NFL said it was looking into an Associated Press report that a law enforcement official sent the league a video five months ago of Rice punching his fiancee in the head and knocking her unconscious.
“Director Mueller’s investigation will be overseen by NFL owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the final report will be made public,” Goodell said in the release.
Mueller, 70, who headed the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2001 to 2013, joined the law firm of WilmerHale in Washington as a partner in March.
The NFL repeatedly has denied that anyone in the league office saw the footage before it was released by website TMZ on Sept. 8. Goodell said yesterday in a memo to owners that the league asked law enforcement for the video “on multiple occasions” and no tape was provided.
Goodell faced calls yesterday from women’s advocacy groups to step down over his mishandling of the assault, while former players criticized him on Twitter and Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee sent him a letter raising questions about the league’s response.
“This looks horrible for the league,” David Johnson, chief executive officer of Atlanta-based public relations firm Strategic Vision LLC, said of the report that the NFL had received the second security video. “They already had a problem with how they dealt with Rice and it compounds the problem. Now they’re looking like the Keystone Cops and actually being guilty of a cover up.”
An unidentified law enforcement official told the AP that he sent an unsolicited DVD copy to the league’s New York office in April. A 12-second voice message from an NFL office number on April 9 includes a female voice confirming the arrival of the disk and saying: “You’re right. It’s terrible,” AP said.
The league “will look into” the story, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said yesterday in an e-mail.
“We have no knowledge of this,” McCarthy said. “We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday.”
Goodell initially suspended Rice for two games in July, when the only known video showed the running back dragging his unconscious fiancee from the elevator of a hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Baltimore Ravens terminated his contract and the NFL banned Rice indefinitely on Sept. 8, hours after the new video surfaced.
Rice was arrested in February after the altercation with Janay Palmer, who is now his wife. The couple have a 2-year-old daughter, Rayven. Rice entered into a program for first-time offenders that allowed him to avoid trial.
In his memo yesterday, Goodell repeated the league’s assertion that law enforcement entities weren’t allowed to release the footage to the NFL.
“The notion that the league should have gone around law enforcement to obtain the video is, in my opinion, misguided, as is the notion that the commissioner‘s job is now in jeopardy,’’ Mara said in a statement before yesterday’s AP report and before the NFL announced Mueller’s investigation.
The unidentified official who sent the recording to the league in April did so without authorization because he wanted the NFL to have it before deciding Rice’s punishment, AP said.
‘‘The law enforcement official is an unattributable source. If they can attribute that source, then Goodell has a problem,” said Rich Torrenzano, chief executive of The Torrenzano Group, a crisis management firm. “I’m not taking Goodell’s side, just that if you’re saying the NFL had it, stand up and be counted. In terms of appearances, it’s not good, but you can’t go on just appearances, you have to go on fact.”
Goodell said the NFL has been forthcoming about its mistakes when asked in a CBS interview two days ago whether the NFL had dropped the ball in its investigation or was willfully ignorant about what was on the second video.
That security footage, taken from inside the elevator at the now-shuttered Revel Casino and Hotel, shows Rice punching Palmer in the side of the head as she rushes at him following an argument. Palmer strikes her head on a metal railing as she falls and is knocked unconscious.
“We certainly didn’t know what was on the tape,” Goodell said in the CBS interview. “But we have been very open and honest, and I have also, from two weeks ago when I acknowledged we didn’t get this right. That’s my responsibility and I’m accountable for that.”
After widespread criticism of Rice’s initial two-game ban, Goodell last month implemented a stricter penalty for domestic violence. It calls for a six-game ban for a first offense and a possible lifetime suspension for a repeat offender.
The National Organization of Women and Ultraviolet were among the women’s advocacy groups to call for Goodell to step down yesterday. London Fletcher, a former Pro Bowl linebacker who is now an NFL analyst for CBS Sports, said last night on Twitter that if Goodell doesn’t resign he should be put on a leave of absence pending an outside investigation.
“NFL fans, players, and sponsors deserve that,” he wrote.
The letter to Goodell from the 12 members of the House Judiciary Committee said the NFL hasn’t given a satisfactory explanation to the public as to how the league made its request for the video footage and how law enforcement responded. It also said there hasn’t been a full explanation as to whether the video was requested of others and if employees, agents or consultants of the NFL or its teams outside the commissioner’s office had access to the video before Sept. 8.
“Given the important role the NFL and the other major professional sports leagues can play in shaping public perceptions concerning domestic violence, it would appear to be in the public interest to have the highest level of transparency associated with reviews of potential misconduct,” the letter to the commissioner reads.
U.S. Congresswoman Diana DeGette of Colorado, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, called for a hearing into how professional sports leagues handle domestic violence.
“I’m not surprised when senators and congressmen start to posture,” said Torrenzano, the crisis manager. “They’re all trying to be a savior and that’s not helpful either, but at the same time it’s a good thing because it throws sunlight on the problem. The NFL has kind of brought it on themselves.”
Torrenzano said the reaction to the Rice incident has followed a pattern he calls a crisis predictability arrow and applies to not only sports, but business, religion or politics.
“After the outrage, it’s who is coming in as the saviors? Where is the government oversight? How are these people going to be punished?” he said.
Goodell said he wrote his memo to team owners and league executives to provide a full understanding of the process that was followed. Goodell said the NFL took a “significant step forward” with its enhanced policies on domestic violence and sexual assault, yet will continuously examine its procedures.
Strategic Vision’s Johnson said the NFL needed an outside investigator who’s well-respected by the public to examine its handling of the Rice incident.
“Goodell’s denials and statements, even if he’s telling the truth, from a PR standpoint, the public doesn’t believe it,” Johnson said, adding he thinks Goodell will ultimately step down. “I don’t see how he can survive this. Especially if more and more female organizations, more and more politicians begin jumping on the bandwagon. It’s advertisers who listen to that because they know where the buying power is.”