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Roger Goodell’s fate should be determined by outside probe of Ray Rice case

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walks on the field before a Sept. 4 NFL game.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walks on the field before a Sept. 4 NFL game.Associated Press

The NFL finally made the right call in setting up an independent review of its handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case. Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has insisted his job isn’t in jeopardy, should let his fate be determined by the findings of the probe overseen by former FBI Director Robert Mueller.

The league's handling of the Rice case was flawed from the beginning, as Goodell has acknowledged. A surveillance video showed Rice dragging the limp body of Janay Palmer, then his fiance and now his wife, from an elevator in an Atlantic City casino. In response, the league suspended the Baltimore Ravens star for two games. Arguably, the ambiguity of the situation was a factor: While Rice seemed to have knocked her unconscious, there was no actual evidence of what happened inside the elevator. Nonetheless, after a fusillade of criticism, Goodell acknowledged that the league should have imposed harsher punishment, and he announced a plan to get much tougher on domestic violence.

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Seemingly, the commissioner had simply come to his senses. But after last week's release of a new, much more shocking, video on celebrity site TMZ showing the couple inside the elevator and Rice knocking out Palmer with one vicious punch, many questioned whether anyone in football had seen it before. Obviously, the NFL knew or suspected it existed. The league said in a statement that it had requested elevator surveillance footage from law enforcement but that it hadn't arrived. On Wednesday, the Associated Press quoted a law-enforcement source as saying he sent the video to the NFL five months ago, and provided a voicemail message that apparently confirmed its receipt and that at least one person at the NFL had watched it.

If ever a situation cried out for an independent review, this is it. Given that the elevator video was likely to be a conclusive piece of evidence, the NFL should have withheld any decision-making until it had exhausted all possibilities to obtain it. Because of that failure, many of the league’s actions look insensitive in hindsight. After issuing the paltry two-game suspension, Goodell claimed he was “very impressed” with how Rice had handled his “mistake.” At the same time, Ravens coach John Harbaugh defended Rice as “a heck of a guy.” After the elevator video emerged, Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely, and Harbaugh cut him from the team. But they should have been more suspicious from the start.