NFLPA lawyer claims Cass coached Rice to understate assault

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The transcript of the Ray Rice appeal hearing, as summarized Wednesday by Don Van Natta, Jr. of ESPN.com, contains an intriguing — and potentially troubling — assertion regarding Ravens president Dick Cass.

NFLPA lawyer Heather McPhee testified during the hearing that Cass gave Rice a specific bit of advice before Rice met with Commissioner Roger Goodell on June 16.

“[Cass] said, ‘I completely agree with what Heather just said, Ray — be yourself,” McPhee testified.  “I would suggest there are different ways to describe what happened honestly, and it would be truthful to say [you] ‘lay [your] hands on'” Janay Palmer.

“So I said, ‘Well, Dick, I see what you are saying. I would respectfully suggest that sounds . . . as an attempt to soften the description of what occurred in the altercation,” McPhee testified.  “So I was trying to sort of not say, ‘Please don’t use that language that the president of your team just said,’ but to me it sounded like a suggestion that he tried to soften the language.  Ray had always used consistent language with me and it was never anything about laying hands on his wife.”

It’s a telling point, because the NFL justified its indefinite suspension by claiming that Rice indeed understated the altercation when meeting with Goodell.  Former U.S. Judge Barbara Jones flatly rejected the league’s position that Rice made misleading comments.

If McPhee’s testimony is accurate, it shows that, if anyone tried to understate the incident, it wasn’t the player who faced missing games but the team that faced playing games without the player.

Within the Ravens organization, a vague sense has emerged over the past several months that someone or multiple someones were downplaying the situation in order to help Ray both with the league office and with those in the building who may have been inclined to cut ties with Rice, if they’d known the truth.  With $25 million paid to Rice from July 2012 through early 2014, the team had an obvious incentive to find a way to keep Rice around, both by minimizing his suspension and by avoiding the possibility that someone (possibly coach John Harbaugh) would have insisted on cutting Rice.

So while it’s indeed possible that ambiguities existed regarding what happened in the elevator, it appears far more likely that the ambiguities were fueled not by Rice but by Cass.

UPDATE 1:20 p.m. ET:  The Ravens have issued a statement in which Cass says he did not suggest that Rice “soften or tone down” his description of the incident.