Five biggest contradictions in Ray Rice scandal that are dogging Roger Goodell and the NFL

NFL columnist
Yahoo Sports

Ray Rice.
TMZ.
Roger Goodell.
New Jersey authorities.
Media. Media. Media. 



Heads are spinning after five days of allegations and rebuttals over the Ray Rice domestic violence saga. While initially the video of Rice striking his wife seemed enough to define the story, it has now spun into one of the most debated and reported stories in NFL history. Each day brings a new claim, deepening a furor that has demoted the start of the 2014 season to a distant sideshow. 

Almost undoubtedly, the past five days have charred the NFL brand. How much so remains to be seen. The damage won't be known until some key issues are resolved surrounding Rice, commissioner Roger Goodell and how the NFL generally goes about its investigative business.

The most pressing?

1. WHO SAW THE SECOND ELEVATOR VIDEO?

The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell have denied seeing the second video from the Ray Rice elevator incident multiple times. The tape, in which Rice is seen knocking out his then-fiancee Janay Palmer, has become the lightning rod in this case. When the video surfaced, it prompted the NFL to indefinitely suspend Rice and caused the Baltimore Ravens to release him outright.

Moreover, the video has propelled the furor around Goodell to Nixonian levels, and triggered a Watergate-esque volley of questions about the evidence in hand. The question of, "What did the NFL know and when did it know it?" has almost become more central to this incident than what was actually revealed on the video.

Here are Goodell's own words and the reporting that has followed:

"CBS This Morning" co-host Norah O'Donnell: So did anyone in the NFL see this second videotape before Monday?
Goodell: No.
O'Donnell: No one in the NFL?
Goodell: No one in the NFL, to my knowledge, and I had been asked that same question and the answer to that is no. We were not granted that. We were told that was not something we would have access to. On multiple occasions, we asked for it. And on multiple occasions we were told no. I understand that there may be legal restrictions on them sharing that with us. And we've heard that from attorneys general and former attorneys general.


Roger Goodell (AP)
Roger Goodell (AP)

What reports say: The Associated Press published a report contradicting this, stating that an anonymous law enforcement source claimed to have sent a copy of the second elevator video to an NFL executive in April. The report does not identify the NFL executive in question, but the AP story stated that a reporter was allowed to listen to a 12-second voicemail linked to an NFL office number, in which an unidentified woman "expresses thanks and says, ‘You're right. It's terrible.'"

What else we know: The chain of command in the NFL is straightforward, sources have told Yahoo Sports. Initial information typically flows from security contractors in the field (often ex-FBI agents or ex-law enforcement officials who work strictly for the NFL, not the franchises) into the league's head of security, Jeff Miller. Miller's right hand man, Lenny Bandy, can also be a cog in this exchange, as he often coordinates the in-field security contractors.

If the case calls for it (and Rice's likely would have), sources say Miller and whomever he chooses from his staff would take direct steps to move an investigation forward. With in-field contractors often supplementing the gathering of information and opening lines of communications with their contacts in the region, Miller will often be on the ground working and directly reporting back to either general counsel Jeff Pash or Goodell (or both).

In a case such as this, sources said all of the pertinent information would be shared with Pash, whose role in shaping conduct penalties was described as "just as important, if not more important than Goodell's."

 2. THE SOURCE LEGITIMACY OF THE SECOND ELEVATOR VIDEO

In a memo to the league's 32 ownership groups, obtained by Yahoo Sports, Goodell says the league did not request the video tape from the casino in which the Rice assault took place. In his words:

"We did not ask the Atlantic City casino directly for the video," Goodell said. "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."

Goodell expanded on the league's thought process in his interview with CBS:

O'Donnell: How is it that the NFL couldn't get their hands on the second tape, but a website called TMZ could?
Goodell: Well, 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. It's the most credible. And we don't seek to get that information from sources that are not credible.

 What reports say: Multiple outlets reported that the NFL had not sought the video prior to Goodell revealing that fact in his memo and subsequent statements.

Ray Rice (USA Today Sports)
Ray Rice (USA Today Sports)

What else we know: Multiple sources said the NFL often gathers information in cases from outside law enforcement sources. In particular, sources who were entangled in three separate NFL investigations told Yahoo Sports that in each case, the NFL sought to obtain text messages, email records or other information directly from the individuals involved rather than law enforcement, suggesting the league has shown a willingness to gather evidence from private sources. Private contractors are often used in such a search. One source in particular said a private contractor working for the NFL had attempted to obtain their personal work records from previous employers.

The league's words and actions appear to be in contradiction on this point. The NFL admits it refused to seek the video from what it deemed as potentially illegitimate sources. But the NFL also admits taking action against Rice after deeming the published video legit. Its actions (further suspending Rice for the content in the video) trumped the issue of the video source (the unknown legitimacy of TMZ's source of the video).

The NFL's process suggests it won't seek a video that comes from an illegitimate source, but it will suspend based on that potentially illegitimately sourced video.

 3. LEGALITY OF SEEKING THE SECOND ELEVATOR VIDEO

Goodell suggested in his interview with CBS that the NFL faced legal restrictions in acquiring the second elevator video of the Rice incident, going as far as saying the league had "heard that from attorneys general and former attorneys general" regarding that legality. Another report, citing an anonymous NFL owner, suggests Goodell didn't seek the video because he didn't want to embarrass the victim, based on statements she made in her interview with the commissioner.

First, Goodell's words:

O'Donnell: So did anyone in the NFL see this second videotape before Monday?
Goodell: No.
O'Donnell: No one in the NFL?
Goodell: No one in the NFL, to my knowledge, and I had been asked that same question and the answer to that is no. We were not granted that. We were told that was not something we would have access to. On multiple occasions, we asked for it. And on multiple occasions we were told no. I understand that there may be legal restrictions on them sharing that with us. And we've heard that from attorneys general and former attorneys general.


What reports say: TMZ and ESPN quoted a spokesman from the office of the New Jersey attorney general seeming to refute Goodell's statement. However, a report from CBS quoted the same spokesperson, saying it would have been illegal for the prosecutor's office – not the casino – to have provided the material.

From TMZ:

"… Paul Loriquet, the director of communications for the New Jersey Attorney General, tells TMZ bluntly, "No, it's not illegal."

Also, TMZ reported, "To be clear … our question was very specific: 'Is it illegal for the casino to show or provide this material to a private entity in an ongoing investigation.' His answer, 'No, it's not illegal.'"

And Loriquet to ESPN's John Barr regarding the casino releasing the footage: "Our interpretation of the law is that it would not have been illegal."

Then Loriquet to ABC, regarding the prosecutor's office releasing the video:

"It's grand jury material. It would have been improper – in fact, illegal – for the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office to provide it to an outside/private/non law-enforcement entity," Loriquet told ABC News.

What else we know: If the NFL wanted to obtain a copy of the video, it is commonly known that in almost all legal situations, materials can be legally and rightfully obtained from parties after an investigation has concluded. If the NFL wanted the second elevator video to play a part in its discipline process, it could have waited until New Jersey authorities had concluded their investigation and sanctioned Rice.

 As for the NFL's "indicting" of Palmer's character, Palmer ambiguously noted her "role" in the incident during a May news conference with Rice. In a statement that struck a fair amount of controversy, she said:

"I do deeply regret the role I played in the incident that night. I love Ray and I know he will continue to prove himself, and I know he will gain the respect back in due time."

She didn't expand on what she perceived her role having been, leaving open an element of interpretation. Whether that happened in her meeting with Goodell, only the parties involved can be certain how she described her "role," and whether that would have created an issue after the exact events were displayed in the video.

4. DESCRIPTION OF EVENTS IN THE ELEVATOR BEFORE THE VIDEO SURFACED

Goodell met with Ray and Janay Rice to talk about what happened in the elevator, but no transcript has been made available of that discussion. That has touched off a litany of competing media stories in which the two sides took up opposite stances on what had been described.

On one hand, Goodell said the video showed a version that was different than what was described when the Rices met with the NFL. On the other hand, ESPN reports sources saying Rice and his wife described exactly what was eventually seen on the tape. Meanwhile, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome told the Baltimore Sun "Ray didn't lie to me" when giving an account of what happened. Staying true to form in this story, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and president Dick Cass heard a different account.

Complicating the narrative even further, the Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed team owner, who said Goodell didn't seek the elevator tape because it would have reflected badly when compared with what Janay Rice had described.

Goodell to USA Today: "There was no ambiguity when you saw that tape. It was sickening. It was appalling. It was clear that it was not consistent with what [Rice and his representative] presented to us in the hearing and we needed to take the right step which is to indefinitely suspend him."

What reports say: ESPN's "Outside The Lines" said four sources insisted Ray Rice told the truth in his interview with Goodell and the NFL. From the report:

"Ray didn't lie to the commissioner," a source with knowledge of the meeting told "Outside the Lines." "He told the full truth to Goodell – he made it clear he had hit her, and he told Goodell he was sorry and that it wouldn't happen again."

"He told the truth," a second source said. "This is a public lynching of Ray."

A third source with knowledge of Rice's discussion with the commissioner said: "There was no ambiguity about what happened [in the elevator]." A fourth source also confirmed how the information was relayed at the meeting; however, a fifth source with knowledge of the meeting said Rice told Goodell he had "slapped" his fiancee.

Meanwhile, a conflicting report from the Wall Street Journal:

"In conversations about the Rice case over the summer, the owner said, Goodell privately told other owners that during his investigation, in a meeting with the Rices in June, Janay Rice said she had struck her then-fiancée and that she believed she was partly at fault for the incident. Goodell also said he left the meeting believing that Janay Rice had become unconscious because she had fallen during the scuffle.

After Goodell suspended Rice for two games in July, this person said, Goodell told several NFL owners that he felt it would have been insensitive to question Janay Rice's story because it would have come across as an indictment of her character. Two people familiar with the commissioner's thinking, including the owner, said they believe the thoroughness of the investigation, and Goodell's decision to suspend Rice for two games, both reflected Goodell's discomfort with challenging Janay Rice's story."

What else we know: A source with intimate details of another NFL investigation said such meetings with Goodell are not sparsely attended. They are said to include Goodell, a cadre of NFL lawyers, the person who is being investigated and that person's lawyer. It stands to reason that whatever was said was heard by many ears, and had plenty of note-takers in attendance. But barring a tape of the meeting or a direct transcript, a dispute about the words is likely to crystalize just as it has in this case: Goodell and NFL lawyers on one side, with Rice and his lawer/agent/wife on the other.

5. THE WOBBLING SUSPENSION STANDARD

After viewing the tape, the league announced on Twitter that Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely. Via spokesperson Greg Aiello's Twitter account:

Following that tweet, Goodell told CBS that Rice could eventually return in this exchange:

O'Donnell: What does that mean that he was suspended indefinitely? Does that mean Ray Rice will never play in the NFL again?
Goodell: I don't rule that out. But he would have to make sure that we are fully confident that he is addressing this issue. Clearly, he has paid a price for the actions that he's already taken.

What else we know: While it may just be a matter of semantics and wording, the indefinite suspension appears to be another departure from what the NFL has previously said about domestic violence suspensions. Initially, Rice was suspended for two games. Then in August, the league revised its penalties to a six-game suspension for first-time offenders and a lifetime ban for a second offense. But following the release of the second Rice video, the league has given Rice an "indefinite" suspension based on what is believed to be his first offense.

One source suggested Rice could argue the NFL acted unfairly with an inconsistent administration of justice – banning an offender two games for a first offense, then altering that standard to six games, then suspending Rice indefinitely. Such disparities, a source said, could give Rice a platform to argue the league can suspend him six games – no longer.

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