NFL launches probe into handling of Ray Rice evidence

Former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III will conduct a probe into how the NFL handled evidence of domestic violence claims against former Ravens running back Ray Rice.

Former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III will conduct probe into league conduct

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday that the league requested but never received the just-released Ray Rice video. (Elsa/Getty Images)

The NFL said late Wednesday that former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III will conduct a probe into how the league handled evidence as it investigated domestic violence claims against former Ravens running back Ray Rice.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a statement that the investigation will be overseen by NFL owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Mueller will have access to all NFL records. 

The NFL's announcement came after a law enforcement official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that he sent a tape of Rice striking his then-fiancee at a casino to an NFL executive in April. 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has maintained that no one at the league had seen the tape prior to Monday, when it went viral online.

Members of Congress from both parties on Wednesday questioned Goodell's handling of the incident.

Goodell has insisted the league didn't see the violent images until this week. After AP reported that a law enforcement official said he had sent a video of Rice punching his then-fiancee to an NFL executive five months ago, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said news reports suggested a "burgeoning, insurmountable credibility gap" regarding statements by Goodell.

"If these reports are true,  commissioner Goodell must go, for the good of the NFL and its fans," Blumenthal said in a statement Wednesday night. "The current leadership of the NFL cannot be trusted to fairly, genuinely implement policies that address domestic violence."

NFL officials, asked about the AP report that a 12-second voicemail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirmed that the video had arrived, repeated their assertion that no league official had seen the video before Monday.

Earlier Wednesday, 12 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee sent Goodell a letter calling for greater transparency from the NFL. Separately, Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada said Goodell had not acted swiftly enough to punish Rice.

"I fear the failure of the NFL to understand the scope and severity of this act of domestic violence has already led to significant damage for vulnerable members of society," Heller said, adding that he was "highly disappointed" that Goodell and the NFL did not take severe action against Rice until after a security video of Rice punching his then-fiancee on a casino elevator was made public.

"By waiting to act until it was made public, you effectively condoned the action of the perpetrator himself," Heller wrote in a letter to Goodell. "I cannot and will not tolerate that position by anybody, let alone the National Football League."

'Shaping public perceptions'

The letters by Heller and the House Democrats both state that the NFL's prominence gives the league a special obligation to forcefully address issues of domestic violence.

"Given the important role the NFL and the other major professional sports leagues can play in shaping public perceptions concerning domestic violence, it would appear to be in the public interest to have the highest level of transparency associated with reviews of potential misconduct," said the letter, signed by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and 11 other Democrats. Conyers is the senior Democrat on the Judiciary panel.

The letter notes Goodell's statements in media interviews that league officials did not see the elevator video until Monday. The Ravens released Rice on Monday and the NFL suspended him indefinitely after the website TMZ released video of the incident. Goodell initially had suspended Rice for two games.

The Democratic letter said Goodell and the NFL have not stated how aggressively the league sought to obtain the video and how law enforcement agencies responded.

Goodell told CBS on Tuesday 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 oppor'tunity," Goodell said.

'Willingness to change' 

Two videos, one released by TMZ Sports and another shown later to AP by a law enforcement official, show Rice punching fiancee Janay Palmer — who is now his wife — and knocking her unconscious. The videos show more detail than an initial video released by TMZ in July that showed Rice dragging Palmer from an elevator.

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 offence, at least a year for a second.

"We welcome your recent willingness to change the NFL's policies regarding issues of domestic violence," the Democratic lawmakers said in their letter, "and we also believe other major professional sports leagues should consider making their policies public and reviews transparent as well."

Besides Conyers, lawmakers signing the letter were Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries of New York; Luis Gutierrez of Illinois; Zoe Lofgren, Judy Chu and Karen Bass of California; Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas; Cedric Richmond of Louisiana; Hank Johnson of Georgia; Steve Cohen of Tennessee; and Suzan DelBene of Washington state.

The Rice story is not the first controversy Goodell has faced during his eight-year tenure as NFL commissioner. Here's a look at some others:

Saints Bounties

A lengthy league investigation uncovered a three-year bounty program in which New Orleans Saints players were paid bonuses for "cart-offs" and "knockouts." Goodell suspended head coach Sean Payton for a season; former defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams — the overseer of the program — indefinitely; general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games; and assistant coach Joe Vitt six games. He also initially suspended defensive players Jon Vilma (for the season), Anthony Hargrove (8 games), Will Smith (4) and Scott Fujita (3). Goodell later reduced suspensions for Hargrove and Fujita, but all player suspensions were overturned by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who was appointed to preside over appeals. The Saints also were fined $500,000 and stripped of second-round picks in 2012 and 2013.

Patriots spy on Jets 

New England's Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 by Goodell, the largest for any coach, on Sept. 13, 200,7 for spying on an opponent's defensive signals. A Patriots assistant coach had taken video of the New York Jets sideline and signals. Goodell also fined the franchise $250,000 and a 2008 first-round draft pick.

Dolphins Bullying 

After offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the Dolphins in October 2013 and complained about bullying tactics, Goodell commissioned an investigation at the behest of team owner Stephen Ross. Miami suspended Richie Incognito for the remainder of the 2013 season, a move supported by the league. Investigator Ted Wells concluded that offensive linemen John Jerry and Mike Pouncey joined Incognito in harassing Martin and position coach Jim Turner participated in the taunting of a second player, Andrew McDonald, now with the Carolina Panthers.

Players Locked Out 

The owners locked out the players in March 2011 because a new collective bargaining agreement had not been reached. Although the draft was staged during that time, no other off-season programs were held. Negotiations dragged into July before a 10-year CBA was reached. Many fans blamed "greedy owners" and Goodell for the lockout. The lockout cost the league only one pre-season game being cancelled.

Officials Locked Out

Before the 2012 season, the league again locked out employees: game officials. The replacements, with little pro football officiating experience, performed decently in pre-season games, but struggled mightily during the regular season. In the Monday nighter in Week 3, a last-gasp pass into the end zone appeared to be a clear interception, but instead was ruled a game-winning TD for Seattle over Green Bay. Three days later, the regular officials were back on the field. Since then, several executives under Goodell who dealt with officiating either left the NFL or moved to different jobs.


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