Roger Goodell put little effort into Ray Rice investigation, report reveals
A report by ESPN’s Outside the Lines revealed how Roger Goodell contradicted himself on key questions during Ray Rice’s suspension appeal hearing.
Roger Goodell’s testimony during Ray Rice’s suspension appeal hearing revealed the NFL commissioner to be “a CEO who more than once contradicted himself on key questions,” according to a report released by ESPN’s Outside the Lines. The OTL report went over the 631-page transcript of Rice’s hearing held in early November, and found several instances where Goodell was unable to recall key moments of his June 16 disciplinary hearing with the running back, or gave testimony that suggested that he failed to do his due diligence in the case.
From over-delegation to assistants, to comically bad note taking, the report paints Goodell as out of touch and ill-prepared to handle Rice’s case, especially ahead of the onrush of criticism he received following TMZ’s release of a video tape depicting Rice knocking out his then fiancee in an elevator.
The OTL report was released shortly after the NFL revealed its new personal conduct policy, approved unanimously by owners during a Wednesday meeting in Dallas. The new policy puts a greater emphasis on the NFL’s internal investigative arm to determine discipline for violations of the policy by players and personnel. It also leaves the commissioner over all appeals with the power to rule on them.
What we learned:
1) Goodell didn’t do due diligence
Most damning for Goodell may be that the commissioner seemingly put little effort in preparing for his June disciplinary hearing with Rice, nor did he pay much attention during the hearing itself. Goodell reportedly received several security reports about Rice detailing the incident in the elevator … and didn’t read them.
Goodell received several NFL security reports prior to meeting with Rice on June 16 that quoted media reports and other sourced information developed by security officials saying Rice had hit his fiancée and knocked her out. But he acknowledged that in some cases he “didn’t read it from start to finish” and that on other notes, “I didn’t look at them closely, no.”
2) Goodell received several witness reports suggesting what he eventually saw on the tape
Goodell has claimed that one of his primary reasons for increasing Rice’s suspension from two games to six was that the tape released by TMZ revealed new information that contradicted what Rice had told the commissioner during their June 16 disciplinary hearing. Not only was Rice reportedly up front with the commissioner that he “hit” Janay Rice and did not “slap” her, OTL revealed that the commissioner was aware of accurate witness testimony to what took place in the elevator.
One mid-February report from “The Baltimore Sun” quoted an anonymous casino source saying Rice’s attack “was horrific, it shocked the conscious, he knocked her out with one punch, she was out for three minutes, he dragged her out like a limp noodle, he hit her so hard it was unbelievable, we have her ice packs for her head.” Another report quoted a security official saying a source said Rice had hit his fiancée. Goodell acknowledged he had seen the reports in a binder of materials provided by a NFL security official prior to the June 16 meeting with Rice. Miller said because “The Baltimore Sun” report was “anonymous” there was no way for league officials to know for sure whether it was accurate.
3) Goodell did not try to obtain a copy of the tape, but he told his bosses that he did
The OTL report suggests that any fact gathering in the league’s investigation of Rice was handed down to assistants and that Goodell “relied on his security staffers to come to him with information about the Rice case.” Goodell seemingly gave little oversight to the investigation, or was ill-informed of its proceedings. In a Sept. 10 memo, Goodell wrote to all 32 NFL owners that “on multiple occasions, we asked the proper law enforcement authorities to share with us all relevant information, including any video of the incident.”
It’s unclear where Goodell would have gotten the idea that his security staff had requested video, however. Just before the memo went out, the NFL’s lead investigator had informed NFL executives that he had never contacted anyone about the tape. Via the report:
But one day before Goodell sent that memo, the league’s lead investigator on the Rice matter had actually told the league’s director of security that he had never requested the inside-casino elevator video from the one law enforcement agency that actually had it, the Atlantic City Police Department: “Again, I never spoke to anyone at the casino or the police department about the tape,” NFL investigator Jim Buckley wrote in a Sept. 9 email to NFL executive vice president and chief security officer Jeffrey B. Miller. The last e-mail on the chain from Buckley says: “I never contacted anyone about the tape.”
None of the four potential police department that could have had the tape had heard anything from the league, either:
Attorneys and witnesses sparred over just how aggressive the league was in trying to get a copy of the full video. The four law enforcement agencies that Goodell told the owners the league had sought the video from were the “New jersey State Police, the Atlantic County Solicitor’s Office, the Atlantic County Police Department and the Atlantic City Police Department.”
However, none of those agencies say they had a formal request from the NFL for any such video. Three of the four agencies named by Goodell never had a copy of the surveillance video; only the Atlantic City Police Department had it, but it never received a written request from the NFL, Miller testified.
When questioned during Rice’s hearing whether he knew if the league had tried to obtain the tape, Goodell was vauge.
Kessler: “Did you ever learn before or after that that in fact no formal request was made for videos about your security department of the police department who had it is that in fact they never made such a formal request?”
Goodell: “[What] does a formal request mean?”
Kessler: “Are you aware that there [are] laws in the State of New Jersey where people can file formal requests for information from the police department?”
Goodell: “I’m not an attorney.”
Kessler: “So on September 9th, Mr. Buckley writes to Mr. Miller, ‘again, I never spoke to anyone from the casino or police department about the tape.’ Okay. What I’m going to ask you, did you ever become aware prior to imposing your second discipline that security people had not really spoken to the police department or the casino about getting the inside the elevator tape?”
Goodell: “I wasn’t aware of the fact that they tried to get it from law enforcement. I do not know the specifics.”
4) Goodell doomed himself with his own note taking
The poor quality of NFL’s note-taking was criticized extensively by judge Barbara Jones in her decision to reinstate Rice. Goodell explained why his notes were so sparse during his testimony.
Goodell’s handwritten notes from that hearing were difficult to read and purposely not extensive, he testified, because he prefers to observe players’ actions during a disciplinary hearing.
Most of Goodell’s notes dealt with Rice’s character, including quotes from Ravens officials in the room about the running back’s status in the locker room and in the community. Unfortunately for Goodell, perhaps because he didn’t have reliable notes, he was unable to recall one of the most important pieces of information from the hearing.
Only one of Goodell’s notes deal with the altercation — he wrote the word “struck,” which Goodell initially testified had referred to Janay striking Ray, though he later said it could have referred to Rice saying he had struck Janay.
The NFL tried to win the Rice appeal on a battle of semantics, but given its evidence it’s a wonder it tried to fight at all.