Ray Rice may not be the only member of the Baltimore Ravens who will wind up paying with his job for the February domestic violence incident that has mushroomed into an unprecedented scandal for the team and the NFL. That much seems abundantly clear in the wake of a damning and extensive investigative report by ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Friday, a report that points to a concerted cover-up effort by the Ravens in their attempt to protect their star running back from the consequences of punching his then-fiancee in that Atlantic City, N.J., hotel elevator.
In the latest bombshell development in the Rice story, the Ravens just had everything they said they knew and when they knew it undercut by ESPN’s 7,000-plus-word story, published Friday afternoon on ESPN.com. And the revelations could be a game-changer for Baltimore team officials if the veracity of their earlier accounts of their actions are proven to be false. What the story might mean for the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league office is more difficult to project, but perhaps now the league’s own independent investigation of the Rice affair -- headed by former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III -- has a blueprint of sorts to work from in unraveling the truth of this embarrassing saga.
If ESPN’s story proves accurate, the Ravens face another much more difficult round of explaining to do, given that the report lays the nuts and bolts of a wide-ranging cover-up at the doorstep of team owner Steve Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass, and longtime general manager Ozzie Newsome. All three are said to have been fully aware of the details of that damaging elevator surveillance camera tape soon after Rice’s Feb. 15 arrest.
The bullet points of the ESPN report are devastating to Baltimore’s contention that it was as taken aback by the reality of Rice’s attack on Janay Palmer only once TMZ released the inside-the-elevator video on the morning of Sept. 8:
* The story explains that Darren Sanders, the Ravens' director of security, relayed a detailed account of what that tape showed to Ravens team officials within hours of the attack, after an Atlantic City police officer watched the tape and described the attack to Sanders. That’s a little less than seven months before Baltimore officials have claimed to know the full scope of Rice’s violence inside the elevator.
* The Ravens, according to the report, consulted frequently with Rice’s Philadelphia-based attorney, Michael J. Diamondstein, who had a copy of the tape starting in early April. Diamondstein reportedly told Cass: “It’s f---ing horrible.’’ Cass did not request a copy of the tape for the team’s own investigation, the story says, but instead started pushing Rice’s legal team to get Rice into a pre-trial invention program, in part because doing so would keep confidential the contents of the surveillance camera tape.
* In response to learning of the severity of the incident, the report says Biscotti, Cass and Newsome began an orchestrated and extensive campaign for leniency on Rice’s behalf, lobbying officials in the Atlantic County judicial system where Rice faced charges, to the office Goodell, who ultimately would hit Rice with the modest two-game suspension, as a favor the Ravens had requested. The team’s head coach, John Harbaugh, and director of player personnel George Kokinis, pushed for Rice’s immediate release even before they became aware of what happened in the actual elevator, with Rice punching and knocking out Palmer, the story said. But Bisciotti, Newsome and Cass overruled them.
* Lastly, the story details how Bisciotti text-messaged Rice last week, the day after the team released him amid a firestorm of criticism sparked by the inside-the-elevator tape. In the texts, Bisciotti thanked Rice for his time in Baltimore and made mention of a post-football job offer with the team. Rice, the ESPN story said, eventually came to feel insulted and believe the offer was in exchange for him remaining quiet and accepting the blame for misleading team officials and Goodell about the events inside the elevator.
Just as the controversy regarding Rice had started to die down somewhat amid the start of the Mueller investigation, Friday’s ESPN story with a vengeance opens back up the question of why the Ravens and the NFL were so in the dark about the elevator surveillance tape, and why Goodell went so light in the first place in terms of investigating and disciplining Rice? And after the commissioner’s 43-minute press conference in New York broke his public silence but little new ground in the Rice case, there’s only going to be a call for more answers in the light of the latest developments.
The Ravens, however, are the ones who will likely bear the greatest brunt of the questioning. Bisciotti and the team could wind up being fined heavily by the league if they are found to have concealed evidence Goodell should have known about, and it’s possible either Cass or Newsome -- and perhaps both -- could be terminated if a front office house-cleaning is deemed necessary.
The Ravens have released the following statement on the ESPN report:
"The ESPN.com 'Outside the Lines' article contains numerous errors, inaccuracies, false assumptions and, perhaps, misunderstandings. The Ravens will address all of these next week in Baltimore after our trip to Cleveland for Sunday's game against the Browns."
As many have said all along, it’s the cover-up that always proves far more damaging than the crime. And if proven, that deceit will cost the Ravens franchise and the league dearly, at the price of a severe loss of credibility that will not be easily restored.
If Baltimore thought the worst of its Ray Rice ordeal was over, Friday might have opened a whole new chapter that the Ravens will pay for, and the city be asked to endure.