Football

Roger Goodell under fire for the way the NFL handled Ray Rice incident

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s tenure could be in danger because of his handling of allegations of domestic violence against Ray Rice.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s tenure could be in danger because of his handling of allegations of domestic violence against Ray Rice. The Associated Press

As questions arose about how the NFL investigated domestic violence allegations against Ray Rice, commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that the league asked for, but was not given, video showing the ex-Ravens running back punching his then-fiancee on an elevator.

Goodell told CBS that “no one in the NFL, to my knowledge” had seen a new video of what happened on the elevator until it was posted online.

“We assumed that there was a video. We asked for video. But we were never granted that opportunity,” Goodell said.

The commissioner also told CBS that he didn’t feel that the incident has put his job in jeopardy. “Every day, I have to earn my stripes,” he said.

Public relations professionals see things differently, however.

“He’s in hot water, baby,” said J. Keith Murnighan, the Harold H. Hines Jr. Distinguished Professor of Risk Management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, declining to say whether the commissioner might lose his job. “He has damaged the brand. Owners are going to be wildly uncomfortable.”

The NFL is the most-watched U.S. sports league, generating almost $10 billion in annual revenue. Goodell was paid $35 million in salary last year.

While advocate groups said the league should ban anyone guilty of domestic violence for life for a first offense, Goodell told CBS that Rice may get to play again some day.

“But he would have to make sure that we are fully confident that he is addressing this issue,” Goodell said. “Clearly he’s paid a price for the actions he’s already taken.”

In addition to being cut by the Ravens, Nike on Tuesday terminated its endorsement contract with Rice. The team no longer owes him $3.29 million in nonguaranteed salary for this year, according to the Baltimore Sun, and won’t have to pay the running back’s $3 million nonguaranteed salaries for 2015 and 2016.

Two videos, one released by TMZ Sports and another shown later to The Associated Press by a law enforcement official, show Rice punching Janay Palmer — who is now his wife — at an Atlantic City casino in February. The videos are graphic and show more detail than an initial video released by TMZ in July that showed him dragging her from an elevator.

After the latest TMZ video made its way around the Internet, the Ravens cut Rice and the league suspended him indefinitely. But the video renewed criticism about the NFL’s decision to initially suspend Rice for just two games, and raised questions about how strenuously the case was investigated.

Goodell has previously said he “didn’t get it right” with Rice and the league set up new penalties for domestic violence: a six-game suspension for a first offense, at least a year for a second.

“I would tell you that what we saw in the first videotape was troubling to us, in and of itself,” Goodell said. “But what we saw (Monday) was extremely clear, is extremely graphic, and it was sickening. And that’s why we took the action we took yesterday.”

In the videos that surfaced Monday, Rice and Palmer are seen hitting each other before he knocks her off her feet and into a railing.

The higher-quality video shown to the AP shows Rice made no attempt to cover up what happened. After Palmer collapses, he drags her out of the elevator and is met by some hotel staff. Someone is heard saying, “She’s drunk, right?” And then, “No cops.” Rice didn’t respond.

The video was shown to the AP on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to release it.

“It’s a complicated mess,” Murnighan said, noting that Goodell’s tenure as commissioner, which began in 2006, has been successful when measured broadly. “Here you have a sport that is brutal and violent, but when it goes outside the lines, you have a problem on your hands. This is a long-term, incredibly sensitive dilemma they have to deal with and they have not dealt with it well.”

At issue, says David Johnson, chief executive officer of Atlanta-based public relations firm Strategic Vision LLC, is whether Goodell — the father of two daughters — and NFL executives knew about what happened inside the elevator and when they knew it. And if they didn’t know, why not.

“One case is too many,” Goodell told CBS. “What we have to do is say, ‘If we have one case, that’s something we have to address,’ People expect a lot from the NFL. We accept that. We embrace that.”

San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald played in the team’s season opener Sept. 7 after being charged with felony domestic violence a week earlier. He said “the truth will come out,” and team officials said he was allowed to play pending the police investigation. He was the first player charged with domestic violence after Goodell stiffened the policy.

Goodell, 55, the son of a former U.S. Senator, joined the NFL in 1982 as an intern. He spent the following year working for the New York Jets in public relations before returning to the league office.

“It’s beyond Goodell doesn’t get domestic violence,” David Johnson said in a telephone interview. “He was the Keystone Cop. The image is — it’s either incompetence on his part or negligence covering it up.”

Former NFL Players Association President Domonique Foxworth said Goodell’s bailiwick is discipline.

“Roger’s big claim to fame is this disciplinarian role,” said Foxworth, who is in his final year at Harvard Business School. “If that’s being attacked, I’m not sure what Roger’s support with ownership would cling to.”

Murnighan, the Northwestern professor, said he expects the Rice fiasco will lead to policy changes at the league. David Johnson, meantime, said he would be surprised if owners aren’t pressing Goodell to hold a news conference at which he would announce an independent investigation into the Rice matter.

“I would not be stunned if some of the owners, and I don’t know if it has reached this temperature right now, but if I was their PR person, I would be thinking about a graceful way of getting Roger out of this position down the road,” he said. “If there is any kind of smoking gun, any evidence that he knew, or higher-ups knew, they have to terminate him right away.”

Palmer defended her husband on her Instagram account Tuesday, saying that barring Rice from playing football is “horrific” and that making the couple “relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he met with owner Steve Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome after they saw the TMZ video, and they made the decision to let Rice go.

The action represented a complete reversal for the team, which had initially supported Rice. Rice had been charged with felony aggravated assault in the case, but in May he was accepted into a pretrial intervention program that allowed him to avoid jail time and could lead to the charge being purged from his record. A prominent New Jersey lawmaker called Tuesday for that decision to be reviewed.

In a letter to fans, Bisciotti said the team should have done more to get the video as the investigation continued, and it was a “mistake” not to. He said the team tried to get the video from both the casino and law enforcement, but the casino wouldn’t share it and that authorities refused. It is common for law enforcement to decline to release evidence when an investigation is ongoing.

However, sports leagues routinely cooperate with law enforcement. The NFL, for example, worked in conjunction with officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, New Jersey State Police, New York City Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to secure the 2014 Super Bowl played in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

“We should have seen it earlier. We should have pursued our own investigation more vigorously,” the letter said. “We didn’t and we were wrong.”

Rice’s attorney, Michael Diamondstein, declined to comment when contacted by the AP. In a brief telephone interview with ESPN, Rice said: “I have to be strong for my wife. She is so strong. … We are in good spirits. We have a lot of people praying for us and we'll continue to support each other.”

Rice stood to make $4 million this year. In addition to his salary, he'll also lose income from canceled endorsement deals. Nike announced it has severed its business ties with him, and video game publisher Electronic Arts said it would scrub Rice’s image from their latest Madden ’15 release.

In public statements this summer, he expressed regret: “I let so many people down because of 30 seconds of my life that I know I can’t take back.”

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