Nothing To Hide? Why Roger Goodell Should Have To Testify In Ray Rice Appeal

AP Photo/Jason DeCrow

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has declined to testify in the appeal of Ray Rice, which will be heard the first week of November. He can be compelled to do so by Judge Barbara Jones, who will be the neutral arbiter in the case.

In sports there is a tendency to turn the page immediately after a loss. The great players all cite that elusive virtue: being good at forgetting. The best quarterbacks are said to be able to forget an interception before taking the field on the next series. The idea is that you can't let your mistakes get into your head, where they can create a crack of doubt.

But Roger Goodell shouldn't confuse what's good for one of his players with what's good for an NFL commissioner.

Goodell has still declined to testify in Ray Rice's appeal, which will be heard the first week of November. He can be compelled to do so by former U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Jones, who will be the neutral arbiter in the case. She could make the decision as early as Tuesday, thus ending the standoff between the league and the NFL Players Association.

But the NFL shouldn't be obstructing and stalling as it is asked about the process the league used to decide upon an indefinite suspension for the former Baltimore running back after a video of Rice punching his then-girlfriend Janay Rice was posted on TMZ.

Who better than Goodell to know how forthcoming Rice was in the initial NFL hearing about the matter, the one that resulted in an initial two-game suspension in late July. Who knows better than Goodell what piece of information he was referring to when he said, in a CBS interview, that Rice was "ambiguous" about what happened in the elevator.

Not surprisingly, that's the view the players' association is taking. Ryan Clark, a former Steelers safety and member of the group's executive committee, elaborated.

"In the interest of transparency, Roger should testify and explain how Ray was ambiguous during their meeting," Clark said an email. "We have to know the truth about what happened, and his testimony is key to finding that out."

When asked if Goodell would be made available, league spokesperson Brian McCarthy said, "We intend to comply with the confidentiality order entered by Judge Jones regarding the appeal proceedings."

The NFL cited "new evidence" in increasing Rice's suspension from two games to indefinite after the tape came out, after the Ravens already made the call to cut Rice.

These days, Goodell has listened to numerous people who have made ending interpersonal violence their life's work. The NFL has become a sounding board for many of these groups, who for so long found the public wasn't listening to their message. But now, thanks to the NFL and Goodell's admission that they made a mistake, the public is listening.

I've sat in on some of the meetings the NFL has had with domestic violence experts and team personnel. The NFL is taking advantage of its platform, and profound cultural change could be at hand.

But this isn't like moving on to the next play after a fumble. The NFL needs to take full stock of its error and make that information public. Goodell didn't just make a mistake on the decision of two games. According to several reports, the NFL was dismissive at best about past allegations of domestic violence against players.

There are three investigations ongoing. The first is the Rice appeal, the second is the internal investigation led by Robert Mueller, and the third is a concurrent players' association investigation of the league's handling of the entire case and process. The first is focused on the matter of Rice, who still hopes to play this season, according to a source close to the player.

Judge Jones will hear the Rice appeal much like a court case when it starts in two weeks. There will be a process of discovery and evidence presented, and then Jones will hear the testimony of Ray and Janay Rice, Ravens officials such as Ozzie Newsome and Dick Cass, and NFL attorneys Adolpho Birch and Jeff Pash.

There are a couple of key issues in the appeal. Was Rice's indefinite suspension consistent with the new policy, which calls for an indefinite suspension after a second violation, but not a first? There is no public information supporting the idea of a second violation. Also, what kind of due process was Rice afforded before the second suspension, and would that second suspension constitute double jeopardy?

The other two investigations will delve into what the NFL knew of the second video, which shows the punch, and whether it covered up or willfully ignored evidence before or after its release.

Judge Jones shouldn't have to compel Goodell to testify. The players' association shouldn't even have to ask nicely. Goodell should know the only way over is through, and that means being transparent, even if it's embarrassing or makes the NFL look bad.

Goodell should be available and forthcoming. When he uses rhetoric like "getting it right," he needs to actually get it right. Putting up barriers to fact-finding is getting it wrong. Again.

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