As bad a week Ray Rice has had, it has been a much worse one for the National Football League. After indecisiveness regarding Rice’s punishment (from a measly two-game suspension to an indefinite suspension from professional football), NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has come under intense scrutiny.
On Tuesday, Goodell claimed that his office had not seen nor been granted access to the video footage that TMZ made public Monday. The office of the New Jersey Attorney General has since confirmed that Goodell and the NFL could have acquired a copy of the tape in question, at any time, upon request.
The incident captured on the tape took place in the early morning hours of February 15, inside an elevator at the Revel casino in Atlantic City.
The grainy footage showed Rice, a three-time Pro Bowl running back and Super Bowl Champion, striking his then-fiancée and now-wife Janay Parker in the face, with a closed fist. Parker’s head then slammed into the elevator wall before she collapses to the floor.
A second video, obtained from a security camera in the Revel’s lobby, which TMZ also first made public in February, shows Rice dragging Palmer’s limp body out of the elevator, as a security guard approaches.
Rice immediately took full responsibility for the event, and Palmer quickly made public statements maintaining that she had played a part in instigating her now-husband. In the statements, she hoped for the charges against Rice to be dropped by the prosecution.
As is often the path prosecutors take in domestic violence cases with similar circumstances (where the defendant is a first-time offender and the victim wishes not to testify against his or her partner), Rice was allowed to enter a pretrial intervention program (PTI) in May, sparing him of potential prison time.
“You can prosecute somebody without the cooperation of the victim,” said prominent New Jersey attorney, and former Essex and Morris County prosecutor, Robert Schwartz, via an NJ.com report.
“You can issue a subpoena and order them to testify, but you typically want to avoid that.”
In July, Goodell, who has been known as a strict disciplinarian for players’ off-field behavior, responded to Rice’s legal woes by suspending him for just two games. This response was laughable compared to other punishments, such as the mandatory four-game suspensions handed down to players who violate the League’s drug policy.
Goodell’s decision was criticized so heavily that it led to the NFL implementing a revised domestic violence policy. The new rules call for a six-game suspension for first-time offenders and a lifetime ban for any subsequent offense.
The new penalties, however, were not retroactively applied to Rice, nor have they been applied to Greg Hardy of the Panthers, or Ray McDonald of the 49ers, both of whom were also arrested this offseason for incidents related to domestic violence.
Neither player has faced any punishment thus far, as both cases are still running their respective courses through the legal system. Both played during week one and are expected to play again Sunday.
When the video from inside the elevator dropped Monday morning, the Baltimore Ravens immediately fired Rice. Goodell followed up by changing Rice’s suspension from two games to indefinite.
His reasoning was that the video brought to light new evidence of which he was previously unaware when he made the original ruling. He claimed that after his summer meeting with the Rices, exactly what had happened in the elevator remained “ambiguous.”
The commissioner’s flimsy excuse of ignorance was rightly met with harsh criticisms, and within a few days, it became clear that he and others within the NFL had seen the video before Monday, or at the very least, had ample opportunity to obtain the video.
Witnesses who were sitting in on the meeting between the player and commissioner also maintain that Rice told Goodell that he hit Parker in the face, and it resulted in her losing consciousness. That information was also listed in the Atlantic City Municipal Court complaint, which is public record, according to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”
As of the most recent report by OTL, all signs point to the fact that the only thing that might have been “ambiguous” to Goodell prior to Monday was whether Rice struck Palmer with an open or closed fist.
The NFL owners have hired former FBI Chief Robert Mueller to further investigate the Rice case and Goodell’s handling of the situation.
If the Mueller investigation does implicate the commissioner for any wrongdoing, it is likely that he will come under some sort of punishment from the owners, possibly even termination.
While Rice’s actions, and subsequently Goodell, have given the NFL a bad week, domestic violence has been entwined in the League’s culture for years.
Goodell did not become commissioner until 2006, and Rice didn’t enter the League until 2008. However, the fictional TV series, “Playmakers,” which mimicked both on-field and off-field problems facing a pro-football organization, aired in 2003.
One of the program’s plotlines involved the team’s veteran running back getting in an argument with his wife, which escalated and eventually cumulated with the player punching the female in the face.
ESPN canceled the series before a second season was released, amid rumors that the NFL disliked the show’s accurate portrayal of hot-button, off-field issues.
Research done by Benjamin Morris of ESPN.com affiliate FiveThirtyEight suggests that the rate of domestic violence offenses against NFL players since 2000 is 55.4 percent above the national rate. It is the highest differential rate for any category of criminal offenses covered in the study.
What the future holds for the parties under scrutiny is unclear. It is likely that Rice will be reinstated by the League at some point, but whether or not any team will risk the media backlash in order to hire an aging running back (with grainy footage hovering over him like a scarlet letter) is another story entirely.
Instances of Michael Vick (dog fighting) and Donté Stallworth (DUI manslaughter), both of whom returned to the NFL after stints behind bars, didn’t seem to provoke such negative emotions as Rice’s left hook caught on film.
Goodell’s fate rests on the results of Mueller’s secondary investigation. It is very possible that he will soon be joining Rice in unemployment. For now, though, both parties churn restlessly in NFL purgatory, hoping the American public forgives them for their roles in crime most will not soon forget.
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