While much remains to be digested from the written ruling issued by former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones and the transcript from two days of testimony that the case has generated, the ultimate result of the Ray Rice appeal says plenty about the NFL’s handling of the Rice case.
Judge Jones likely has concluded that Rice had told the NFL everything the NFL needed to know when suspending him for only two games, and that the NFL didn’t need to see the video. If that’s the case, the question of whether the NFL knew about the contents of the video doesn’t matter; the knowledge has been imputed to the league based on the reconstruction of the facts over which Judge Jones presided.
In turn, that potentially makes the ongoing investigation from former FBI director Robert Mueller moot. Mueller has spent weeks exploring what the NFL knew and when the NFL knew it about the incident that ultimately was demonstrated by video evidence to entail a vicious blow to the head that rendered Janay Palmer Rice unconscious. If Judge Jones has concluded that the league had everything it needed to know when suspending Rice the first time, Mueller’s investigation doesn’t matter. Judge Jones — a truly independent party whose firm (unlike Mueller’s) has no other connection to the NFL — quite possibly has determined that the league necessarily knew what was in the video.
If that’s what she concluded, it no longer matters whether someone sent the video to the league office, as the Associated Press reported. It no longer matters whether the NFL should have asked Rice or his lawyer for the video. It no longer matters whether the NFL should have asked the casino at which the incident occurred for the video. It no longer matters whether the NFL should have broken out the checkbook and purchased the video, the same way TMZ did.
None of it matters because the NFL necessarily knew that which the rest of the world first saw on the morning of September 8.
There’s one caveat here, which won’t be known until the ruling is fully examined. It’s possible that Judge Jones found that Rice’s version of the events created ambiguities that the NFL could have resolved by getting the video, and that the NFL should have gotten the video. While leading to the same result for the purposes of Rice’s suspension, that nuance potentially clears the NFL from a determination that it possessed the knowledge regarding what happened — and that it lacked the sensitivity, common sense, or human empathy to bother to consider what the incident actually looked like on video.
The answer surely resides in the document Judge Jones has written to support her decision. It’s possible, if not likely, that the written decision proves that there was no need for Mueller or anyone else to investigate what the league knew and when the league knew it. Judges Jones’ decision could mean that the NFL knew everything, well before TMZ provided all of us with a window into that elevator.