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Christopher L. Gasper

NFL lost its gamble on Ray Rice video

Atlantic City is a gambling town. We can now add the NFL to the long list of those who liked their odds in an Atlantic City casino and walked away losers.

The NFL bet that what happened between former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his then-fiancée/now wife Janay Palmer in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino would never see the light of day. That all we would see was the aftermath, Rice dragging his unconscious significant other out of the elevator of the Revel Casino after a physical altercation in February.

It gambled that the horrific video of Rice slugging Palmer, published by TMZ.com on Monday, would remain concealed. It gambled that the public outcry over the league’s far too lenient two-game suspension for Rice announced on July 24 would subside and the public would be satiated by commissioner Roger Goodell’s mea culpa and the league’s recently announced tougher standards for those who commit domestic violence.

The NFL gambled and it lost. It lost respect. It lost dignity. It lost some of the shine on its precious shield the moment the heinous surveillance video was glimpsed. The NFL closed its eyes and expected everyone else to do the same.

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There is a willful suspension of disbelief that goes along with the business of the NFL, where the players are indistinguishable from the product. The players, portrayed, packaged and sold as superheroes are in reality flawed human beings, some with deeper flaws than others. The coaches, the general managers, the owners, the commissioner don’t really want to know what malice their players are capable of off the field, as long as they’re producing for them on it.

That’s why Goodell is believable when he told the “CBS Evening News” on Tuesday that neither he nor anyone else in the league had seen the damning video from inside the elevator.

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“We had not seen any video tape of what occurred in the elevator,” Goodell told CBS, one of the league’s television partners. “We assumed that there was a video. We asked for the video, we asked for anything that was pertinent, but we were never granted that opportunity.”

The league asked, but it was fine hearing no.

It defies credulity that TMZ.com could get its hands on the video and the most powerful sports league in North America, a league populated with influential billionaires and masters of the universe, couldn’t procure it.

It’s also more than a coincidence that it was TMZ, not of the league’s media partners, that broke the cone of blindness on the video.

According to TMZ, the Revel Casino said the NFL never asked for the video. Goodell claimed in the CBS interview that going directly to the casino to request the elevator video would have been illegal. Yet, Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti in a letter to Ravens fans said his team did request the elevator video.

The league should at least get its story straight, no?

Not getting the video calls into question the authenticity of other NFL investigations. How can you make the right decision if you don’t have all the information?

For years, the NFL Players Association has decried Goodell’s plenipotentiary powers in disciplinary matters and the NFL’s mishandling of the Rice domestic violence case makes their case.

In the wake of the heinous images and reprehensible action displayed on the casino elevator video, some have called for the ouster of Goodell as NFL commissioner.

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Goodell isn’t going anywhere, unless the owners use him to break their fall.

It says something about our society that there is more outrage over the discipline of a sports commissioner than there is over the fact that the Atlantic County prosecutor Jim McClain, appointed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, had the elevator video and declined to prosecute Rice, allowing him to go into a pretrial intervention program.

Goodell did himself no favors with his adamant and unwavering defense of his initial punishment for Rice at the Pro Football Hall of Fame festivities.

But the real villain here is Rice. He is the one who slugged his beloved. His actions can’t be condoned under any circumstances, but they can be a catalyst for the issue of domestic violence being taken more seriously by the NFL.

When Sports Illustrated did its power issue in 2013 it put on the cover an illustration of Goodell in a “Game of Thrones” motif. But Goodell does not sit on the gridiron throne. He is merely the Hand of the King for the owners.

The job of NFL commissioner is part pitchman, part corporate concierge, and part CEO. Goodell is exceedingly good at it, which is why the owners paid him $44.2 million to do it in 2012, the most recent year his compensation was reported.

As long as Goodell keeps lining the owners’ coffers, they will back him. Patriots owner Robert Kraft came to Goodell’s defense on Tuesday, appearing on “CBS This Morning.”

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To understand the attitude in the NFL, San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York came out Tuesday and said defensive lineman Ray McDonald, who was arrested on Labor Day for allegedly striking his pregnant fiancée, is not Rice. The 49ers allowed McDonald to start in their win over the Cowboys on Sunday.

McDonald will be the litmus test for the league’s beefed up domestic violence punishments, as spelled out in an Aug. 28 memo by Goodell.

That memo also called for new programs to educate veteran players on domestic abuse, training to help team human resource executives and player engagement personnel identify signs and risk factors for domestic abusers, and hotlines that can be called to confidentially report domestic violence.

The NFL can’t gamble any more on domestic violence cases. There is too much at stake, and I’m not talking about money, ratings or the hallowed NFL shield.

There are lives at stake.

Related coverage:

Dan Shaughnessy: In Ray Rice case, one failure after another

In wake of Ray Rice case, NFL’s troubles weigh on fans

Ravens cut Ray Rice after video emerges


Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.