Judge Jones rejected NFL’s testimony, focused on notes from June meeting

Getty Images

The failure of the NFL to create a clear record of the things said when a player meets with the Commissioner for review of the player’d case under the personal conduct policy means that, if a dispute arises regarding what was said, the facts must be recreated.

In the Ray Rice case, the recreation of the facts by former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones centered on the NFL’s contention that Rice didn’t say he had struck his then-fiancée, and that Rice actually said he had slapped Janay Palmer, who then fell and “knocked herself out.”  Ultimately, that’s what it boiled down to before Judge Jones; whether Rice said he hit Janay or whether he said he slapped her, she fell, and she “knocked herself out.”

The testimony of the witnesses regarding the things said at the June 16, 2014 meeting at the league office conflicted on that point, with Rice and his witnesses contending that he said he struck Janay — and with the NFL’s witnesses contending that Rice merely said he slapped her and she then fell and “knocked herself out.”  This necessitated a review by Judge Jones of the notes made by persons attending the meeting.

Commissioner Roger Goodell’s notes were “not detailed” and contained no “verbatim quotes” from Rice regarding the assault.  Goodell’s notes do not contain the word “slap” but they do use the word “struck.”  NFL senior V.P. of labor policy and governmental affairs Adolpho Birch’s notes were “even sparser.”

NFL senior labor relations counsel Kevin Manara, who was assigned specifically to take notes, wrote that “he slapped her; fell; knocked herself out.”  However, Judge Jones was “not persuaded that [Manara’s] notes reliably report that Rice used the words ‘knocked herself out.'”  She reasoned that Jones’ notes use “slapped” when the majority of witnesses said Rice used the word “hit,” and she pointed to Manara’s concession that the notes describing the assault were not “verbatim.”  It’s a subtle way of rejecting the credibility of Manara’s notes without attributing a reason or motive for the lack of credibility.

In contrast, NFLPA counsel Heather McPhee generated “more detailed and careful notes, which emphasize the exact words Rice used with quotation marks.”  She wrote that Rice specifically said, “And then I hit her,” that Janay fell, and that she seemed “knocked out.”  McPhee also gave “emphatic” testimony that Rice did not say that Janay had “knocked herself out.”  Goodell and Birch were far less unequivocal about their recollection of Rice’s words.

This prompted Judge Jones to conclude that Rice had said that he hit Janay, and that he did not claim she had “knocked herself out.”  Judge Jones then demonstrated that the mechanism for the knockout was and is irrelevant.

“Whether the blow itself or hitting the railing knocked Mrs. Rice unconscious, the cause was the hit,” Judge Jones wrote.  “Rice reported to Commissioner Goodell that he had hit Mrs. Rice; and his lifting and dropping of her prone body were there for all to see in the outside-the-elevator video.  Commissioner Goodell himself, in response to the question, ‘Did Mr. Rice ever say that he knocked out Ms. Palmer?,’ testified, ‘No, but he took full responsibility for it, he said it is not her fault, it is my fault.”

In other words, Rice hit Janay and as a result she became unconscious.  It doesn’t matter whether he knocked her out with the blow, whether she was knocked out when the blow sent her head into the elevator railing, or whether she became unconscious by falling after being struck and thus somehow “knocked herself out.”  Rice initiated the assault that left her knocked out.

And that gets back to the point that the investigation regarding whether the NFL knew or should have known what was in the video doesn’t matter.  The NFL knew what happened in the elevator.  Ray hit Janay, and Jay ultimately became unconscious.  Regardless of what it specifically looked like, no one should have expected it to be a pleasant thing to watch.  Football players routinely are struck in the head and few ever end up in the condition Janay was in from the initial surveillance video that was published weeks before Rice met with Goodell.

Perhaps the league’s goal has been to make this all so complicated that the simple logic became obscured.  Under the simple logic that emerges unmistakably from Judge Jones’ decision, the end result is every bit as troubling as a finding that the NFL actually had access to the video.  The truth is that, while the NFL may not have been able to see the images before the video was released on September 8, the NFL didn’t need to.

57 responses to “Judge Jones rejected NFL’s testimony, focused on notes from June meeting

  1. Seriously though. Anyone that brings this clown back is just asking for it. Kryptonite for any franchise. It’s not like there was speculation. We saw the video. People are going to use it to show their kids what domestic violence looks like.

  2. There are so many things wrong with the NFL’s side of this story that one of two conclusions must be the case. They are either entirely duplicitous or they are beyond incompetent.

    Why would such an important meeting not be transcribed verbatim, but left up to the perceptions of everyone involved with only some questionable sets of notes as a record? It should be assumed that any decision would be up to appeal and having a full transcript available could only help. Once the appeal is over, the NFL can just “Spygate” the files and call it a day if they are so concerned about privacy.

    It is funny that the woman in the meeting took the best notes. I guess all the boys were just going to sweet talk a copy of them out of her when they had to study for the final exam. Just like college.

  3. It’s just stunning that the actual violence is all but ignored in these posts. The fact that an NFL player struck his wife so forcefully that she was rendered unconscious is now a footnote. Of far greater importance to PFT is the collective bargaining agreement. As if a different review process will prevent domestic violence in the future.

    How about addressing the real issues: what led Ray Rice to believe it was appropriate to assault her in the first place? What needs to be done by the players themselves–grown men, all earning at least six figure salaries–to stop committing acts of domestic violence?


  4. Why are they quibbling about the language? It’s like saying “I pushed a guy, and he happened to fall off the edge of the subway platform and liquified himself on the grill of an oncoming train.”. Bizarre.

    But, hey Ray, I guess that this shows you were in the right all along and Roger Goodell is the real problem here. I mean if the guy can’t take exact notes about the way you KOed your fiance, he doesnt’ deserve the job.

  5. This is simply amazing. In this day and age, it is incomprehensible that the Commissioner would conduct a disciplinary hearing and not record it. If the hearing had been recorded, there would have been no need to sift through the recollections and notes of the various witnesses. What had been said at the hearing would have been clear beyond question. Tape recorders and court stenographers have been around since the days of leather helmets, so why was this hearing not recorded? Where were the NFL’s attorneys when this decision was made?

    This omission had serious negative consequences:

    1. Judge Jones rejected Goodell’s version of events as not credible;

    2. She found his decision to be an abuse of discretion;

    3. She found Goodell’s memory to be vague, even though he was testifying about a significant event that had happened only several months earlier; and

    4. She accepted the notes and testimony of an NFLPA attorney as more credible and persuasive than the notes and testimony of the NFL witnesses.


  6. Silly question on my part -why didn’t they have a stenographer or a video or audio recording of such an important meeting? Police departments and lawyers do it all the time and it doesn’t cost much. Doesn’t it make sense to do so to avoid any questions of who said what? To me, it seems clear that Roger Goodell is lying his tail off. The Adrian Peterson punishment is just show to distract people from how the NFL has ignored domestic violence for years.

    Before people get mad at me, my point is that the NFL has ignored or issue very slight punishments for domestic abuse for years and now that they got caught, they are taking holier than thou position as a publicity tactic. Goodell needs to be fired, but this is how he is taking attention away from himself.

  7. Blah blah blah… fast forward to end of this post.. He’s reinstated, Goodell lied. Fire Goodell, hopefully Rice finds a job and everyone lives happily ever after. Oh and completely overhaul NFL conduct policy and punishment strategy.

  8. As nearly as I can tell, the re-re-reconstruction of events indicates that Janay Rice slapped Roger Goodell for making a pass at her in an elevator. When Ray intervened on her behalf, Roger ducked the punch he threw, and it struck Janay square in the jaw instead. Then Roger ran away laughing. Is that right?

    Next we get to find out the horrible truth that Adrian Peterson was forced to beat his own child for disobedience, by Masta Roger, down there on the plantation.

  9. Of course Goodell is a smug, lying jerk. Everyone knew that before this took place. And he SEEMS very incompetent at his job of running the league. However, the only thing he’s getting paid for is to increase the owners’ fortunes and to be their personal hand puppet…errr…do their bidding. Sadly, he’s great at that.
    It’s really the owners that should be receiving the majority of the blame for how this and the other recent headlines were handled. They control everything Goodell does and couldn’t care less about some broad that gets knocked out or some kid beaten by his father. Just keep the Benjamins rolling in.

  10. Goodell failed horribly, he should be fired already. Owners are stupid to keep this guy bc he’s going to ruin them and the league for many years to come.

  11. BORING! Seriously I don’t care about details of legal issues players go through, I just want football analysis.

    Can’t you guys get coach’s tapes and break down plays that teams run and what teams try to counter with?

    I’d like to see the Xs and O’s and the routes receivers run and what coverages defenses apply for teams. This I’d like to see more of PFT!

  12. It’s the End of the World as We Know it ….and I feel fine.. Six o’clock, TV hour, don’t get caught in Goodell’s tower…It’s time I had some time alone..

  13. The quintessential dishonesty of Roger Goodell and his cronies is more apparent with every passing day. Absolutely awful situation made worse by a power drunk egomaniac who has forever tarnished what little integrity he was perceived to have had.

  14. It’s amazing how intricately detailed proceedings are. I thought the NFL was suppose to have the best lawyers you could buy. It doesn’t seem like it.

  15. So in the end, it doesn’t matter that he knocked her out and dragged her by her hair out if the elevator, only that the arbitrator decided that she didn’t trust the testimony of the NFL, just the union rep. Makes perfect sense in Obama’s America. Feelings trump facts once again.

  16. As a poster noted above, why was there no taping, video or audio, of the interview?? Let’s face it, when you are making a decision and there will be reasons that involve contracts for your decision, it is always recorded. This practice is, for no other reason, to insure that all the facts are documented. This is either a colossal screw up by the NFL’s legal team, or an obvious attempt to make a decision because Goodell didn’t like the bad PR associated with the incident.

    The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business, if the powers that be don’t understand their own arbitration process or, worse yet, the basics of Human Resources, then somebody’s head has to roll.

    Goodell and the NFL security team botched this from the beginning and now look like buffoons.

    I definitely don’t condone anything that happened in regards to the Rice’s and there is a morals clause in every player’s contract. However, the morals clause is for the franchises, not the league. And if the league is going to step in and make these decisions, then they need to have their act together, which they clearly did not.

  17. ” Rice initiated the assault that left her knocked out.”
    we have always known that is not true.
    We have always known that she hit him first. Several times.

    Last time I checked she is not allowed to do that.
    she slapped him,
    she slapped him again,
    he slapped her,
    She staggered and hit her head on the elevator rail
    she went unconscious.
    he poked her with her toe.
    then he dragged her out of the elevator.

    He clearly had no need to slap her to defend herself, but anything he did could have left him in the same situation. If he grabbed her arms she could have been bruised, if he pushed her away she could have been hurt.

    The only way he could get out of that elevator without being in risk of being where he is now is to let her keep hitting him till she got bored of it.

  18. Good analysis Mike, have to say expected to get up this morning and learn that Goodell had either resigned or been fired, difficult to see how he keeps the job now.

  19. Wow Goodell does not have hearings recorded and how is that fair to everyone. Goodell needs to stop being God Goodell, extricate himself from review of discipline, have recorded meetings and use a panel to make decisions rather than his own judgement.

  20. “he slapped her; fell; knocked herself out.”

    Oh, she knocked herself out. That must have been when he dropped her face first on the floor then.


  21. Did Roger Goodell insinuate or lead us to believe that Ray Rice was evasive about what happened in the elevator when Goodell met Rice and the victim to discuss this incident?

    I guess Ray Rice wasn’t evasive after all. Roger Goodell was. He’s gotta go. He has no public credibility. NFL Owners: Do you really want this public liar as your commissioner?

  22. So some of you guys think that Mr Rice, the guy who violently knocked out a defenseless woman, should be reinstated. However the guy who screwed up an investigation, should lose his job forever?

  23. Now that tbis is basically done here is the takeaway.
    Video of an assault equals national outrage and an indefinite suspension for the player .
    The same crime with no video equals 2 (now 6) game suspension and a collective yawn from the masses.

  24. neutronjimmy123 says:

    hopefully Rice finds a job and everyone lives happily ever after.

    If any team signs him, which is no sure thing, I hope the fans boycott them.

  25. I think there’s plenty of blame to go around. Why do we need to focus on any one individual?

  26. If the NFL were paying Goodell $50 million a year instead of the mere $40 million that he makes now, I’m sure he would have taken much better notes.

  27. Maybe it’s time to ask further questions on why this hearing wasn’t recorded.

    Art. 46 Sec. 2(f)(iii) of the CBA provides that hearings involving league discipline “shall” be transcribed (recorded) “unless the parties agree otherwise.”

    Did Rice and NFLPA agree that the Rice hearing would not be transcribed (recorded)? If so, they deserve their share of the blame for this mess of conflicting testimony and notes. I’m trying to figure out what the League and the NFLPA were thinking when they disregarded this section of the CBA.

  28. denverdave3 says:
    Nov 29, 2014 7:19 AM
    So some of you guys think that Mr Rice, the guy who violently knocked out a defenseless woman, should be reinstated. However the guy who screwed up an investigation, should lose his job forever?

    Often the cover up is worse than the offense because it leads us to question as to what else is being swept under the rug. It could be the volume of offenses or the severity of other offenses that we don’t know about that is troubling. What’s even more troublesome is that he is simply the owners’ marionette shedding no light on what owners and front office execs have been guilty of in the past.
    I think many believe that Ray Rice has a better chance of rehabilitating his behavior (domestic violence) after this than Goodell does (lying & cover up) going forward which leads them to feel that they’d rather see Rice reinstated & working than for Goodell to remain in power. I personally feel that Rice should be given another chance as should Goodell, but that in order to remain a monopolistic entity, the government should mandate an independent, third party disciplinary panel to preside over both the league (owners & employees) and the NFLPA. Fair & objective punishment for all.

  29. You really want to get rid of Goodell?

    Then stop giving the NFLPA and Owners a free pass.

    As long as he can deflect all the coverage and actual reporting from them… he is doing exactly what he is getting paid to do.

  30. What I see is the NFL never imagined there would be any kind of legal challenge from Rice, if they did there would have been mountains of notes and quotes to back up their move. The lack of such things shows me they thought Rice would take his punishment quietly and just attempt to get on a team next year

  31. Remember…Goodell is a lawyer and how can you tell when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving.

  32. Actually, Goodell is not a lawyer. The commissioners of the NBA and MLB are, but Goodell is not.

  33. The sheer number of pigs here who thumb down discussion of the fact that a professional athlete sucker punched a woman is amazing … but not surprising.

    Way too many faux-men here who think that being a man is grabbing his crotch, spitting and beating something up that is smaller and weaker than them.

    Tell ya what little boys, how ’bout we let Ray Rice sucker punch you and then you can tell us how tough you REALLY are.

    Bunch of little boys trying to talk tough is what we have here.

  34. Heather McPhee should get a nice Christmas bonus. She helped NLFPA help Rice and showed the commissioners office to be incompetent with the strokes of a pen.

  35. “Bunch of little boys trying to talk tough is what we have here.”

    LOL… don’t type too hard. You might sprain a wrist.

    The “what he did” really has nothing to do with the situation because the media forced the NFL to jump straight to punishment. Really it never mattered because no one gave a crap until the video.

    I said at the time they shouldn’t be giving the NFLPA a pass because they’d be defending the players shortly, and winning

  36. The “what he did” has everything yo do with it. He sucker punched the woman he supposedly loves. If you think this was the first, or last time that happened, you are part of the problem. Victims of domestic violence deserve better than to lose out to technicality and celebrity worship. Concealed carry permits exist for people like Ray Rice.

  37. All this is doing is making it HARDER for the NFL to punish this type of behavior int he future.

    With this screw up, you can bet the next change to the CBA will require actual convictions (which are rare in these types of cases) and now the NFLPA has the precedent to stand firm on that change.

    As usual… the knee jerk reaction that drives media sites hurts the overall product.

  38. Tundrastruck – speculation is fun. How do you know it wasn’t a one time thing? Unless you’re a licensed therapist that has actually seen and worked with the Rice’s, then your just another person reading definitions of “domestic violence” out of a textbook.

  39. cwwgk says: Nov 28, 2014 10:33 PM

    It’s just stunning that the actual violence is all but ignored in these posts. The fact that an NFL player struck his wife so forcefully that she was rendered unconscious is now a footnote. Of far greater importance to PFT is the collective bargaining agreement. As if a different review process will prevent domestic violence in the future.

    How about addressing the real issues: what led Ray Rice to believe it was appropriate to assault her in the first place? What needs to be done by the players themselves–grown men, all earning at least six figure salaries–to stop committing acts of domestic violence?


    Its stunning that you would post that.

    Your pontification over the current discussion is over the top. All that you ask for has been mentioned and addressed WHEN IT ORIGINALLY HAPPENED. Repeatedly. A better policy has been implemented in regards to your concerns.

  40. NFL owners didn’t become NFL owners by being stupid morons. These guys, most of them, are astute business people, and some of these business people are football people, the Vikings being business people only, but I digress. I sure hope these owners are paying attention to all this drama that Roger Goodell created by being a totally incompetent administrator. How many mistakes does a guy have to make in order to lose his job? Is there not one person in the NFL office that has the courage to speak up and bring reason to any situation? Goodell has to be fired. He’s done more damage to this league than all the other commissioners combined. A real black eye for the NFL. NFL owners…WAKE UP! FIRE this guy!!!

  41. How does Goodell keep his job after this? I know the old refrain, he makes the owners lots of money, I can make the owners lots of money also, anybody could do the job he does. The NFL is a fantastic brand and does not need a pathological liar like Goodell as its leader.

    Please, please, please, NFL owners, wake up and fire this guy. There are so many great honest people who could do at least as good a job, if not better, without the PR disasters that Goodell has brought to the NFL.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.