Goodell writes memo to NFL owners as pressure from NOW, Congress increases

Shutdown Corner
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Seattle at an event showcasing NFL Now, the league's next-generation video service, which will provide a personalized stream of video from the digital library of NFL football video through apps and browsers on a variety of devices. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Seattle at an event showcasing NFL Now, the league's next-generation video service, which will provide a personalized stream of video from the digital library of NFL football video through apps and browsers on a variety of devices

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, in Seattle at an event showcasing NFL Now, the league's next-generation video service, which will provide a personalized stream of video from the digital library of NFL football video through apps and browsers on a variety of devices. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

As the Ray Rice scandal moves forward, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has become the target of increasing anger and frustration from a wide cross-section of society. The National Organization of Women has called for Goodell's resignation, and several members of Congress have urged Goodell to show more transparency regarding his decisions in the Rice case.

While Goodell has indicated that he does not believe his job is in jeopardy, NOW believes it is time for him to go.

"The only workable solution is for Roger Goodell to resign, and for his successor to appoint an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the NFL community, and to recommend real and lasting reforms," NOW president Terry O'Neill said in a statement. "The NFL sets the example for college, high school, middle school and even elementary school football programs. And the example it is setting right now is simply unacceptable."

NOW is promoting the Twitter hashtag #ResignGoodell as a way of spreading its message.

In addition, 12 members of the House Judiciary Committee sent Goodell a letter seeking more insight into his decision-making.

"[To] our knowledge the public has not been informed as to specifically how and in what context the request [for the second videotape] was made, and specifically how relevant law enforcement responded," the letter reads in part. "Nor has there been a full explanation as to whether the video was requested of others, such as Mr. Rice's attorney or the casino where the incident occurred [and if not, why not], or whether any employees, agents, or consultants of the league or any of its teams outside of your office had access to the video prior to September 8. We therefore urge greater transparency and explanations of these matters."

Meanwhile, Goodell is going on the offensive, laying out the NFL's timeline of events and justification for its actions. On Tuesday night, he did an interview with the CBS Evening News, and on Wednesday, Goodell sent a memorandum to the owners of the league's 32 teams.

The memo begins by stipulating the message that Goodell has put forth already: that the first time the NFL saw the inside-the-elevator tape was Monday morning, and that the NFL asked multiple law-enforcement entities for copies of the tape.

As for obtaining the tape itself, Goodell implies that there was simply no legal way to do so.

"Once a criminal investigation begins, law enforcement authorities do not share investigatory material [such as the videos here] with private parties such as the NFL," he writes. "In addition, the state’s Open Public Records Act excludes material that is generated in the context of an active law enforcement proceeding." While Rice is in a pretrial diversion program, his case remains open.

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"As is customary in disciplinary cases," Goodell writes, "the suspension imposed on Mr. Rice in July was based on the information available to us at that time." And therein lies the issue.

Goodell relies on the letter of the law while evading the spirit of punitive action. In other words, given the video already in circulation, given "the information available to [the NFL] at that time," it should not have been necessary to see what happened inside the elevator in order to levy a harsher punishment than two games on Rice. Goodell contended in an interview with USA Today that Rice misled him as to the events that took place in the elevator, but it's difficult to reconcile anything Rice might have said in his own defense with his actions on that tape.

In short, the NFL continues to rely on a system of plausible deniability for its actions and inactions.

There remains the question of why many NFL-connected reporters wrote in July that the league had viewed the second tape, and that Goodell is now denying any such viewing took place. (It is, of course, possible that other NFL executives, not Goodell, saw the tape. Again, plausible deniability.)

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Regardless, Goodell's credibility is at an all-time low, and every action he takes from here on out will be measured against his admitted failure in this case. "[W]e will be judged on our actions going forward," he writes. "I am confident that those actions will demonstrate our commitment to address this issue seriously and effectively, and will reflect well on the NFL, all member clubs, and everyone who is a part of our league."

The complete text of the memo follows:

MEMORANDUM
To: Chief Executives
Club Presidents
From: Commissioner Goodell
Date: September 10, 2014
Re: Investigation of Ray Rice Incident




As you know, there has been a good deal of speculation about the investigatory process that preceded the decision to suspend Ray Rice for his involvement in an incident of domestic violence last February. I want to use this opportunity to address this matter and provide a full understanding of the process that was followed.

First, we did not see video of what took place inside the elevator until it was publicly released on Monday. When the new video evidence became available, we acted promptly and imposed an indefinite suspension on Mr. Rice.

Second, on multiple occasions, we asked the proper law enforcement authorities to share with us all relevant information, including any video of the incident. Those 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. 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. As is customary in disciplinary cases, the suspension imposed on Mr. Rice in July was based on the information available to us at that time.

Our understanding of New Jersey law is that casino security is regulated by the Division of Gaming Enforcement in the State Attorney General’s office. Once a criminal investigation begins, law enforcement authorities do not share investigatory material (such as the videos here) with private parties such as the NFL. In addition, the state’s Open Public Records Act excludes material that is generated in the context of an active law enforcement proceeding. The law enforcement agencies did nothing wrong here; they simply followed their customary procedures. As the New Jersey Attorney General’s office said yesterday, “It would have been illegal for law enforcement to provide [the] Rice video to [the] NFL.”

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, and that doing so would have subjected individuals to prosecution for interference with a criminal investigation. Moreover, our longstanding policy in matters like this – where there is a criminal investigation being directed by law enforcement and prosecutors – is to cooperate with law enforcement and take no action to interfere with the criminal justice system. In addition, in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation, information obtained outside of law enforcement that has not been tested by prosecutors or by the court system is not necessarily a reliable basis for imposing league discipline.

Finally, it is our understanding that the criminal proceedings involving Mr. Rice are considered an open matter, and that so long as he is in the pretrial diversion program, no information will be made available to third parties or the public.

As always, we will continuously examine our procedures. I believe that we took a significant step forward with the enhanced policies on domestic violence and sexual assault that were announced last month. I also know that we will be judged on our actions going forward. I am confident that those actions will demonstrate our commitment to address this issue seriously and effectively, and will reflect well on the NFL, all member clubs, and everyone who is a part of our league.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Facebook or on Twitter.

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