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Whether NFL had tape obscures question of whether NFL needed it


The question of whether the NFL had the Ray Rice tape obscures the more important question of whether the NFL actually needed to see the tape. If Ray Rice told the team and the league exactly what happened in the elevator, there really wasn’t any need to see the tape.

In the only two interviews given in the aftermath of the release of the Rice video, Commissioner Roger Goodell stopped short of saying Rice lied about what happened, pointing vaguely to an ambiguity with Norah O’Donnell of CBS and an inconsistency with Christine Brennan of USA Today.

When the hammer dropped on Rice three days ago, many assumed that the team and the league had concluded that Rice had lied about what he did, and that the new punishment arose not from the incident for which he’d already been punished, but from the fact that he essentially obstructed justice in connection with the league’s investigation. After all, Mike Vick and the Saints learned the hard way that Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness To The Shield.

While the football-following world was reeling from the report that the NFL actually had the Rice tape as early as April, a bombshell emerged from Ravens G.M. Ozzie Newsome: Ray Rice didn’t lie.

Ray Rice didn’t lie. Which means the story Rice told was consistent with and not ambiguous in relation to what the video showed. Which means that, regardless of whether the tape was or wasn’t sent to the league office and whether it did or didn’t snake its way to the guy at the top of the organizational chart, the NFL knew what Rice had done.

But the issue remains unclear, because team president Dick Cass suggested that someone told the team and the league something other than what the tape shows.

“There’s a big difference between reading a report that says he knocked her unconscious or being told that someone had slapped someone and that she had hit her head,” Cass told the Baltimore Sun. “That is one version of the facts. That’s what we understood to be the case. When you see the video, it just looks very different than what we understood the facts to be.”

So did Ray Rice lie, or didn’t he? Did Rice create ambiguities and inconsistencies, or didn’t he? Newsome, who per multiple sources was in the room when Rice met with Goodell, says Rice didn’t lie.

But Cass was in the room, too. And Cass is sticking with the notion that he was told Rice had merely slapped Janay, and that she then hit her head.

The best way to know what Rice did or didn’t say would be to review exactly what he said. Inexplicably, the league doesn’t generate transcripts of these meetings between players and Roger Goodell.

Then again, maybe it’s not inexplicable. The NFL generally likes to do whatever it wants to do, in any given case. Having rules and transcripts and other official procedures can be an impediment to the broader desire to decide on a case-by-case basis whatever it is that the league wants to do.

In this specific case, the powers-that-be developed wanted to show a degree of lenience to Ray Rice. In so doing, they glossed over the brutal reality of what he did and the very real likelihood that, eventually, everyone would see it.

So while Robert Mueller launches a not-so-independent excursion into the rabbit hole, keep in mind the very real possibility that the NFL deliberately chose not to focus on facts that would have allowed a reasonable, prudent, and thoughtful person to imagine that the scene in the elevator was every bit as graphic and violent as it turned out to be.