The bad news for the NFL is that Commissioner Roger Goodell has been required to testify in hearing regarding the appeal of Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension. The worse news is that, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, no limits have been applied to the topics on which he’ll be interrogated.
The case involves two separate issues — whether Rice lied to the NFL in connection with the investigation that resulted in a two-game suspension and whether the NFL knew, should have known, or needed to know the specific contents of the elevator video before issuing Rice’s initial two-game suspension. Although the NFL’s lawyers will be able to object to any and all questions posed to Goodell, former U.S. Judge Barbara Jones applied no restrictions in her decision to compel the Commissioner’s testimony.
This doesn’t mean the NFL won’t try. Plan A likely was shielding Goodell from testimony completely. Plan B may be to limit the topics to which he’ll be exposed. And with the question of what the NFL and when the NFL knew it about the Rice video far more likely to create lingering problems for the NFL than whether Rice told the truth, look for the NFL to continue to try to protect Goodell from having to answer questions regarding what the league knew or should have known under oath.
But the P.R. cost could be significant. The effort to keep Goodell from testifying already paints the league in a not-so-favorable light. Ongoing attempts to shape and mold and craft and limit the contours of what he can and can’t be asked will invite even more scrutiny.
Beyond the court of public opinion, there’s also a jury of 32 who may be very interested in how this plays out.
Plan C (or Plan B) could be a settlement of Rice’s appeal. But Rice likely wouldn’t be interested in something like immediate reinstatement. At this point, a significant amount of money would have to change hands to get Rice to release the tail of the tiger — so much that it would be obvious that the league opted not to purchase peace with Rice, but to buy Goodell’s right to remain silent.