The National Football League, responding to mounting criticism of its handling of domestic violence claims against former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, announced Wednesday night that a former FBI director would conduct a inquiry into the league’s handling of the matter.
In a statement, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III would conduct the probe, and it would be overseen by NFL owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The announcement came a few hours after the Associated Press reported that a law enforcement official had sent the NFL a video of Rice striking his then-fiancee at a casino in April. National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell has steadfastly maintained that the league had not seen the graphically violent video before the website TMZ aired it Monday morning.
Goodell initially gave Rice a two-game suspension in July, then banned him indefinitely on Monday after TMZ released the video. Goodell’s credibility is now at stake amid a call for his resignation Wednesday from the president of the National Organization for Women.
Three NFL owners — including the Patriots’ Robert Kraft — spoke out publicly in support of the commissioner as the controversy grew this week.
“The way he has handled this situation himself, coming out with the mea culpa in his statement a couple weeks ago, and setting a very clear policy of how we conduct ourselves in the NFL, I thought was excellent,” Kraft said in an interview Tuesday with CBS.
In its report, the AP said a law enforcement official sent the video to an NFL office in April. That official played the AP a 12-second voice mail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming the video arrived. A female is heard saying: “You’re right. It’s terrible.”
But the NFL initially indicated it was not familiar with that sequence of events.
“We have no knowledge of this,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Wednesday, before the league announced the new inquiry.
Before the AP’s report, Goodell had spent the day spreading word that he had tried but was unable to see the full video, in which Rice is seen knocking out and dragging Janay Palmer, then his fiancee and now his wife, in an Atlantic City hotel elevator.
Goodell said Wednesday in an interview with CBS that the NFL asked New Jersey law enforcement for the video but could not compel them to turn it over and did not want to impede a criminal investigation.
“We are cooperative, we are supportive, we will ask for any pertinent information that we can have access to. But we can’t force them to provide any information,” Goodell said. “I don’t know how TMZ or any other website gets their information. We are particularly reliant on law enforcement. That’s the most reliable.”
Goodell also said that when Rice, his wife, and representatives from the Ravens visited his office on June 16, that Rice’s description of events was “ambiguous.” Janay Rice pleaded for leniency.
But the original arrest report from Atlantic City police wasn’t ambiguous, saying Rice hurt his fiancee by “striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious.” And Ravens team brass, including owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome, told the Baltimore Sun on Wednesday that Rice’s description of events was exactly what was in the video.
“Ray had given a story to John [Harbaugh] and I,” Newsome told the Sun. “And what we saw on the video was what Ray said. Ray didn’t lie to me.”
Later Wednesday, Goodell sent a letter to all 32 NFL owners outlining how the league handled the Rice investigation.
“Requests were made to different law enforcement entities, including the New Jersey State Police, the Atlantic City Police Department, the Atlantic County Police Department and the Atlantic County Solicitor’s Office,” he wrote. “The requests were first made in February following the incident and were again made following Mr. Rice’s entry into the pre-trial diversion program. None of the law enforcement entities we approached was permitted to provide any video or other investigatory material to us.
“We did not ask the Atlantic City casino directly for the video. Again, our understanding of New Jersey law is that the casino is prohibited from turning over material to a third party during a law enforcement proceeding.”
Two weeks ago, Goodell admitted he “got it wrong” with Rice’s two-game suspension and enacted a new domestic violence policy for the league, which he crafted with input from several domestic violence organizations. Not only does the policy include stiffer punishments — a six-game suspension for a first offense and at least a one-year ban for a second offense, although Goodell maintains the power to take mitigating factors into account — but also education and outreach programs for players.
This week, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Mara also spoke in support of Goodell.
“The notion that the league should have gone around law enforcement to obtain the video is, in my opinion, misguided,” Mara said, “as is the notion that the commissioner’s job is now in jeopardy.”
But those statements were made before the AP’s report Wednesday. And, as the controversy has continued, Goodell has detractors from coast to coast. In San Francisco, women’s groups are upset that the 49ers are allowing defensive tackle Ray McDonald to play despite being arrested on domestic violence charges on Aug. 31. In Carolina, defensive end Greg Hardy is still playing as he tries to appeal two guilty counts relating to a domestic violence incident from this spring.
According to a USA Today database, 85 NFL players have been arrested for domestic incidents since 2000.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.