Rice transcript shows discrepancies in NFL’s efforts to get elevator video
On the same day the NFL pulled the sheet off a new personal conduct policy, ESPN.com trotted out the transcript of the Ray Rice appeal hearing.
Well, not all of it. Some of it. Along with a lengthy article characterizing several aspects of it.
Kudos to Bristol and Don Van Natta, Jr. for tracking down the transcript. Many had been trying to get it. ESPN did, according to ESPN and media reports.
Of course, the timing of the disclosure that ESPN obtained the transcript could have been better, given that most media outlets either didn’t notice or didn’t have the time or assets to devote to the issue given the release of the new personal conduct policy. This specific media outlet (or whatever it is that we are) has now had a chance to read the article, twice, and to consider which pieces of it require specific mention.
The biggest takeaway comes from the obvious discrepancy between a statement made by Commissioner Roger Goodell directly to the NFL’s owners and the actual evidence generated during the Rice appeal. On September 10, in the aftermath of the release of the Rice video, Goodell said this to the people who employ him: "[O]n 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.” (Emphasis supplied.)
On September 9, NFL investigator Jeff Buckley told NFL security chief Jeff Miller that Buckley had never asked the Atlantic City Police Department (the only law enforcement agency that actually had the video) for a copy of it.
“Again, I never spoke to anyone at the casino or the police department about the tape,” Buckley wrote in email to Miller.
ESPN’s article includes a portion of the questioning of Goodell by NFLPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, in which some of Goodell’s answers look a little like they did when he was testifying about the Super Bowl ticket debacle in Dallas.
Kessler: "[Y]ou said, ‘we asked for it on several occasions according to our security department. We went through it, we asked for it on several occasions over the spring, all the way through June.’ You see that statement? Did you make a comment like that?”
Goodell: “Yes, I remember that.”
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: “Let me just say, is it your understanding when you made your second decision that your people had done whatever formal means they could to get the first video or not? Do you have any understanding of that one way or the other?”
Goodell: “I had an understanding they had asked for any information that would be pertinent to this case. It would be helpful to us and we’d get a very limited amount of information. I think what’s mentioned in the indictment and the pre-trial intervention there may have been other information.”
Kessler: “Would it have affected your determination if you had seen an e-mail in which the security person responsible said I never specifically made a formal request of the police department for any tapes, would that have affected your determination at all if you had that information?”
Goodell: “As I said before, I don’t know what you mean by formal, but I know they requested the tape.”
Goodell also claimed while testifying that he had no specific recollection of criticism from women’s rights groups or calls for his ouster in the aftermath of the initial decision to suspend Rice only two games.
“Do you remember that there were media commentators who called for your resignation or for you to be fired?” Kessler asked.
“I don’t recall that, no,” Goodell said.
With many in the media under the impression that Goodell’s employment will be in jeopardy only if it’s proven that he saw the elevator video before the public did, these snippets from the Rice transcript underscore the reality that former FBI director Robert Mueller eventually will distill a tapestry of evidence into a report that will characterize the facts and those who communicated the facts to him in a certain way. While it’s easy to focus on the clear-cut, up-or-down question of whether Goodell saw the video prior to September 8, Mueller has the ability to paint a candid and blunt picture about if, when, and how anyone connected to this case told anything other than the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about any aspect of it.
Which means that Mueller’s report will be one of the most heavily scrutinized documents in NFL history.