I believe that the NFL didn’t see the Ray Rice video before imposing a two-game suspension on him. But I can’t believe that the league didn’t see it.
When the question of whether the league saw the video first crystallized in August, PFT reported that the league had indeed not seen the video. Previously, many assumed that the league had seen the video. The notion that the NFL, with its vast resources and connections, couldn’t or wouldn’t have obtained the video before passing judgment on Rice flew in the face of anything and everything perceived and believed about the league’s in-house justice system.
The best evidence that the NFL hadn’t seen the video comes from the fact that the league suspended Rice for only two games. Surely, the punishment would have been far more swift and far more severe if Commissioner Roger Goodell had seen the video as part of his review of the case.
But Goodell should have seen the video. He didn’t, because those responsible for getting the video failed to do so.
The Ravens fumbled the ball in the first instance. With $25 million invested in the player over two seasons and the entire organization wired to believe the version of the events shared by Rice and his wife, someone with a law degree should have said, “Video of what happened in the elevator exists, Ray’s lawyer in the criminal case surely has it, and we should insist that Ray produce it.”
Instead, the Ravens accepted at face value characterizations of what happened. Characterizations that ultimately were incorrect. Whispers emerged of extreme provocation from Janay Palmer Rice, culminating in the then-future Mrs. Rice spitting in Ray’s face. In the aftermath of the Rice punishment, weeks after the suspension had been resolved, one member of the Ravens organization privately advised caution when describing the contact from Ray to Janay as a punch.
Maybe that person meant to say that caution should be exercised when describing it only as a punch.
It’s no surprise that the Ravens bought Rice’s story. They wanted to believe him. They needed to believe him. And with Janay Palmer Rice apparently supporting his version of the events (in part by apologizing at a press conference for her role in the situation) and prosecutors allowing (inexplicably, in hindsight) Rice to enter a diversionary program, the Ravens opted to give Rice, otherwise a model citizen, the benefit of the doubt.
But that’s when someone with the education and experience and an understanding of the criminal justice system should have explained to the folks in the organization without those skills and abilities: (1) the importance of corroborating Rice’s version by watching the tape; and (2) the ease with which the tape could have been gotten.
Rice’s criminal defense lawyer had the tape. He was entitled to the tape as part of the discovery process in the criminal prosecution. Rice, by virtue of the fact that the lawyer works ultimately for Rice, needed only to direct the lawyer to forward the tape to Rice, so that he could in turn give it to the Ravens.
It possible that Rice or his lawyer would have resisted. And that’s where the Ravens had to be willing to say to Rice, “Ray, you’re not putting on a helmet until we see the tape.”
The NFL compounded the error by not engaging in a similar analysis. Undoubtedly influenced by the prosecution’s willingness to give Rice the rough equivalent of a pass and by the team’s convenient and self-serving acceptance of his version of the events, the NFL opted not to insist on seeing the tape.
How could the league office not have been curious about viewing a piece of video that was destined to be leaked? Assuming that such basic curiosity existed, how did the league not realize that, despite the lack of subpoena power or similar authority to obtain the tape, they needed to simply go to the man whose lawyer already had the tape?
In some respects, Rice’s failure to volunteer the tape to the team or the league justifies the predicament he now faces. He opted for a don’t ask/don’t tell approach regarding the tape, embellishing the facts at best and lying about them at worst. While the league has yet to explain that Rice hasn’t been punished a second time for the assault but a first time for essentially obstructing justice by not telling the truth about the incident, that’s the logical conclusion to draw from Monday’s events.
So, no, the NFL didn’t see the tape. And, yes, the NFL definitely should have. If the league had, plenty of criticism could have and would have been avoided.
At a time when the Commissioner is facing tough questions about whether he saw the tape before today, he needs to be asking some tough questions regarding why he didn’t.