The AP reports the NFL was sent the tape in April. “The person played The Associated Press a 12-second voicemail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming the video arrived. “
On July 28, just days after the NFL announced a two-game suspension for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for his arrest on assault charges stemming from an incident involving his fiancee, the league sent a higher-up on ESPN Radio to refute criticism that its punishment was too light. In a bumbling interview in which he tried to explain the punishment, Adolpho Birch, the league’s executive vice president of labor policy and government affairs, said that the NFL had “reviewed all the materials, the information” relative to the case. At the time, those materials included a video of Rice dragging Janay Palmer, then his fiancee and now his wife, out of the elevator of an Atlantic City casino hotel.
The next day, word came that there was another video, one that might show even more. This video reportedly showed Rice punching Palmer and knocking her unconscious before they left the elevator. And according to reports from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, ESPN’s Chris Mortenson, and others, both the police and the NFL had seen this video too.
The video in which Rice knocks Palmer out with a brutish punch to the face became public Monday thanks to TMZ. It refutes the idea perpetuated by Rice’s attorneys that it was exculpatory in any way. And now, after months of criticism over its punishment and reports that it was aware of this video’s contents, the NFL is arguing that it did not in fact see the video before it handed out his two-game suspension.
“We requested from law enforcement and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator,” NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello said in a statement Monday. “That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today.”
Unless King, Mortenson, ESPN’s Jane McManus and Adam Schefter, and other NFL reporters were all either lying or were burned by sources, the idea that the league never saw this video is hard to believe. But the league’s argument has a purpose.
The NFL needs us to believe it did not see that video, because it needs a public relations answer to it. If Goodell and Co. did see it and decided that a two-game suspension was enough, it makes the punishment look like an even bigger mistake than Goodell already admitted it was. Worse, the idea that the league used this video in its determination of Rice’s suspension undermines the message that the league cares about and takes violence against women seriously, a message Goodell has tried to send since he admitted that mistake.
Goodell’s admission came in the form of a new league-wide policy for dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault. Announced in August, the new policy had some major and potentially positive elements, but the headline-grabbing piece was the supposedly harsher punishments for players who committed acts of violence against women. Specifically, it set a standard of a six-game punishment for a first-offense and a lifetime ban for a second.
But as we explained then, the attention-getting piece of the new policy was more public relations messaging than concerted action, because the new disciplinary standards were neither “new” nor “standard.” They simply reiterated authority Goodell already had, but they did so in a way that served a clear purpose: to make the argument that Goodell and his NFL cared enough to admit a mistake and do something about domestic violence.
When it instituted that policy, the NFL said it would not revisit Rice’s suspension. But the new Rice video has already elicited calls for the league to take even more action against Rice, and the NFL could attempt to do so, because letting Rice walk back onto the field after just two games now will render the message it sent with the new policy irrelevant. And arguing that the league didn’t see this video gives Goodell a reason to reopen Rice’s case, to lengthen his suspension, to reinforce the original message with another strong move like it. In other words, it’s another chance to avoid a public relations nightmare with another public relations message.
That won’t accomplish much in the larger fight against domestic violence in this country or even in this league. But it will send the signal the NFL wants to share — that it cares, that it is listening, that it is willing to take action to deal with its problems — to keep fans feeling like it’s doing something and that it’s OK to keep coming back for more.
The Ravens announced Monday via Twitter that they have terminated Rice’s contract:
The #Ravens have terminated RB Ray Rice's contract this afternoon.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 8, 2014
NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello announced on Monday afternoon that commissioner Roger Goodell has indefinitely suspended Rice because of the video evidence that is supposedly new:
Roger Goodell has announced that based on new video evidence that became available today he has indefinitely suspended Ray Rice.
— Greg Aiello (@gregaiello) September 8, 2014