League rejects suggestion of deception in Ray Rice appeal

As the dust settles on the Ray Rice imbroglio and the investigation commissioned by the NFL to investigate two specific aspects of it, there’s one lingering question that the NFL believes shouldn’t be a question at all.

Specifically, the NFL contends that the ruling from former U.S. Judge Barbara Jones does not suggest that the league crafted a false version of what Rice said during a June 16 meeting regarding the discipline to be imposed on him.

“It is completely inaccurate and unfair to say that Judge Jones raised any question about the league’s truthfulness or that she ‘flatly rejected’ the league’s version of what happened inside the elevator,” said a league source who requested anonymity because of the gag order imposed by Judge Jones in connection with Rice’s successful appeal of his indefinite suspension.  “The central flaw is the narrow focus on the judge’s findings regarding the actual words used by Rice at the June meeting (‘hit’ v. ‘slap’, ‘she knocked herself out’).  On that point, the league witnesses were clearly in no way ‘coordinated’ and in fact had somewhat different recollections.  For example, [Kevin] Manara testified, and his notes indicated, that Rice said that he ‘slapped’ Janay and that she ‘knocked herself out.’ Manara agreed, however, that his notes were not ‘verbatim.’ In fact, Judge Jones specifically found Manara to be a ‘credible witness.’ [Adolpho] Birch and the Commissioner testified that they did not have a precise recollection of the exact words used by Rice.  For example, Birch agreed that Rice may have said that he ‘hit’ Janay. This is hardly a ‘coordinated’ story.”

That said, all three witnesses tendered by the league testified that Ray Rice said Janay “knocked herself out.”  Judge Jones did not accept that specific portion of the testimony in her ruling: “Based on all of the evidence, I conclude that Rice . . . did not say ‘knocked herself out,’ and that he did not mislead the League in the June 16 meeting.”

The source also pointed out that Manara, Birch, and Goodell “all testified consistently that, regardless of the specific words used by Rice in the meeting, his description of the incident in the June meeting did not convey the full level of violence that was revealed by the second video, and that was the basis of the Commissioner’s decision to increase the discipline.”  The source contends that “Rice admitted on cross examination that, regardless of the specific words he used, he did not tell the Commissioner the full level of violence occurring inside the elevator.”  The source further said that “Rice admitted that he hit Janay with a ‘strong’ blow and that she hit her head on the elevator railing so hard that it made a loud noise that ‘shocked him and left him concerned that she was bleeding and bruised,’ none of which he told the Commissioner.”

In response to a memo circulated to all owners from NFL general counsel Jeff Pash declaring that “[n]o part of Judge Jones’s decision questions the Commissioner’s honesty or integrity,” some (including PFT and Peter King of The MMQB.com) pointed out testimony that Goodell had summoned others who worked on the issue on the morning the in-elevator video emerged to ‘ma[k]e sure all of us had the same recollection’ sounded more than a little like Saints coach Sean Payton telling his staff to “make sure our ducks are in a row” when the NFL started looking into the bounty issue in 2012.  The source contends that there was nothing nefarious about that effort.

“As for the conspiracy theory, the Commissioner testified that when he saw the second video it showed an incident that was much worse than what he recalled Rice describe in the June meeting,” the source said. “He then called in the others to confirm that his recollection was correct, not to somehow ‘concoct’ a consistent story.  And Judge Jones made no finding or suggestion of any such conspiracy.  She simply found that Rice ‘did not lie’ in the June meeting and that the second video was not different enough to justify increasing the discipline that had already been imposed.”

But Jones also found that Rice didn’t say “knocked herself out,” and Jones specifically noted the testimony regarding an effort to “ma[k]e sure all of us had the same recollection” that Rice had said “knocked herself out.”  Which made it reasonable to raise the issue.

The source made the points listed above in response to PFT’s suggestion that former FBI director Robert Mueller could have, but opted not to, investigate whether the collective use of the phrase “knocked herself out” by three league witnesses following a meeting aimed at “[making] sure all of us had the same recollection” and Judge Jones’ rejection of the assertion that Rice had said “knocked herself out” on June 16 represented a failed collective recollection or a coordinated effort to justify the indefinite suspension of Ray Rice with a false narrative.  The source insisted that the full transcript of the Rice appeal hearing, which Mueller had in his possession, elimintates the notion that Jones was hinting that the the phrase “knocked herself out” arose from an effort to devise a false narrative aimed at justifying Rice’s suspension.

Without seeing the full transcript, it’s impossible to verify that contention.  As the source noted, however, the fact that ESPN’s Don Van Natta, Jr. obtained the full transcript and didn’t push the issue suggests there’s nothing to the issue, especially since he pushed an issue that the transcript and other evidence didn’t support.

That’s likely the end of the story, unless or until a copy of the full transcript shows up in the PFT mailbox.