'Oops' doesn't cut it.

Roger Goodell Blew the Call on Ray Rice

Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a professor of law at Yale University and was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His novels include “The Emperor of Ocean Park” and “Back Channel,” and his nonfiction includes “Civility” and “Integrity.”
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The National Football League, in explaining why it didn't take tougher action before against Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, has said that it never saw the now-viral video of Rice striking his future wife Janay in the elevator.

Let's assume this is true.

TMZ reported this morning that the NFL never asked to see the video in the first place, and that it was available, for example, from either Rice's lawyers or the hotel (at that time still in business) where the attack took place. And one might be inclined to dismiss the report, except it was TMZ that, scooping other media outlets, posted the inside-the-elevator video in the first place -- the event that started the avalanche that some say now threatens the moral legitimacy of the league itself.

Well, I don't know how much moral legitimacy a sports league has to begin with, but I'm certainly with the critics on this one. I'm a great football fan, and I count as pleasant a Sunday afternoon on the sofa watching. I was for a decade or so a season-ticket holder for the Washington Controversies (as Football Outsiders delightfully if, um, controversially has called the team), and I may one day rejoin the club. I'm relieved to see Rice gone, and I agree with those who argue that Commissioner Roger Goodell should not have waited for this visual evidence of what was already incontrovertibly true: that Rice punched his future wife hard enough to knock her out.

Goodell has confessed to a terrible mistake. I hope that's all it was. But if TMZ is right, and the league never even asked for a copy of the tape, then to call the original punishment process a mistake is ... rather mild. (And no, it's not enough to say that the league's request for the tape from law enforcement wasn't honored. That's the point of the TMZ story. The video was probably available from other sources.)

It will be interesting, in light of the avalanche, to see if and how the league finally deals with Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, actually convicted earlier this year of assaulting and threatening his girlfriend.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Stephen L Carter at scarter01@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Michael Newman at mnewman43@bloomberg.net