Roger Goodell would not have survived the placement of the second Ray Rice video inside his league offices, so in that context Thursday he won the game by a field goal or two. Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who investigated Goodell's handling of the case, found no evidence that any NFL employee received, downloaded or watched the tape showing Rice knocking out his future wife inside an Atlantic City casino elevator before it surfaced on TMZ, inspiring the commissioner to assume the role of tough guy.
In fact, after reading Mueller's 96-page report, Goodell might have asked a couple of his crack security officials to dump a bucket of Gatorade over his head.
But the commissioner needs to understand he remains the loser here, even if the two team elders overseeing Mueller's four-month investigation, John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers, engaged in a morning conference call with fellow owners who expressed, in Rooney's words, "resounding support for Roger." The report breaks down glaring inadequacies in the league's attempt to obtain the inside-the-elevator video before Goodell handed down his pathetic two-game suspension of Rice, which grew teeth only after the airing of those images outraged the public and forced Roger the Dodger's hand.
Remember, former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones, the arbitrator who overturned Rice's indefinite suspension, firmly rejected Goodell's claim that the inside-the-elevator video was at odds with the scene Rice painted for him in June, and declared that the commissioner was responsible for "an abuse of discretion." Remember also that on page 10 of the Jones report, the victim, Janay Palmer, said no league official "had asked [Rice] for specific details about what went on in the elevator."
The Mueller report only adds forensic detail to the conclusion that the NFL was guilty here of willful ignorance. If the league didn't see the tape of Rice's vicious assault, it's only because the league didn't really want to see the tape of Rice's vicious assault.
But even if you do believe the Mueller narrative that had NFL security guilty of showing institutional deference to law enforcement, or the parallel narrative that had Goodell's personal detectives relying on Inspector Clouseau-like techniques, the commissioner still has no good excuse for initially suspending Rice for two games.
Goodell had already seen the first video showing Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of the elevator and dropping her to the floor like a sack of mail. Mueller also wrote that Goodell had in his possession the grand jury indictment alleging that the Ravens running back "did purposely or knowingly cause significant bodily injury to [Palmer], and/or under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life."
Second video or no second video, the league had to know what Rice had done. Mueller reported the league received an email from the New Jersey state police a day after Rice's Feb. 15 arrest. That email included an attached writeup from a Baltimore Sun reporter, who quoted an anonymous source describing the assault as "horrific" and one that "shocked the conscience." Mueller also reported that senior Goodell aide Adolpho Birch emailed the commissioner on Feb. 21 to inform him about media reports of a video showing Rice "delivering the blow that knocked her out."
In the spring, Michael Diamondstein, Rice's attorney, secured the inside-the-elevator tape the NFL said it couldn't secure, and he told Ravens president Dick Cass the images were "terrible." Diamondstein declined comment Thursday when contacted by ESPN.com, but he told Mueller he would've handed over the tape if the league had asked. And guess what?
You got it: The league never asked.
"This matter has tarnished the reputation of the NFL due to our failure to hand out proper punishments," Mara and Rooney said in a statement. "It has been a wake-up call to all involved and we expect the changes that have been made will lead to improvements in how any similar issues are handled in the future."
But when Mara was asked later if the league had done the bare minimum in pursuit of the second video, and if the league simply didn't want to know what it didn't want to know, the Giants' owner said the NFL "wanted to get to the truth" and blamed the failure on a lack of sophistication in the investigative process.
"In my opinion," Mara said, "it was not a case of willful ignorance."
Truth is, the scope of the investigation was far too narrow; it didn't focus enough on Goodell's actions from start to finish. What about that "abuse of discretion" described by Jones, the former federal judge?
Too many questions, not nearly enough answers. The Associated Press had reported that a law enforcement official had sent a tape of Rice attacking Palmer to the league office in April, addressed to Jeffrey Miller, senior VP of NFL security, and that a woman from the league office had called the official to confirm receiving it. Mueller said his people all but put hundreds of league employees under a hypnotic spell to find any evidence of that package coming in or that phone call going out, and came up empty.
The AP stood by its story, and so did Goodell and the owners -- or at least the owners who spoke publicly. They basically said, Hey, we committed a bunch of dumb penalties here, and now we're going to pick up the flags and let ol' Rog get back to, you know, protecting that shield thing.
"We have all learned a great deal in the past months," Goodell said in a statement, "and expect to be judged by how we lead going forward on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault."
But before Goodell is judged on how he leads going forward, let's judge him on how he's led in the recent past. Even though Goodell wrote in a Sept. 10 memo to the 32 teams that the league had "asked the proper law enforcement authorities to share with us all relevant information, including any video of the incident," Mueller's report says Goodell's security team never contacted any police officers who investigated Rice's assault, never contacted Atlantic City prosecutors, and never contacted the casino, Revel, where the assault occurred. Even though Goodell wrote in that same memo that the league followed up with authorities after Rice entered a pre-trial intervention program in May, Mueller's report says that never happened.
In addition, Goodell's security team never bothered following up with the Ravens' president, Cass, or their security director, Darren Sanders, who at least tried to obtain the tape from Revel and who had heard an account of the attack from a cop who had seen the tape.
Other than that, Roger Goodell's NFL did a hell of a job.