Why the NFL's 'independent investigation' could be complete farce
Now that the NFL has turned its epic mishandling of the Ray Rice case over to an allegedly independent investigative team, we're left to wonder how independent that team is, and how much of the investigation that is to be made public will actually be seen by the public. In a joint statement released Thursday afternoon, New York Giants co-owner John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II had this to say:
Commissioner Goodell called us on Wednesday evening and requested that we oversee the independent investigation that will be conducted by former FBI Director Robert Mueller III. Our role is not to conduct or direct the investigation but to support Mr. Mueller and assist him in gaining whatever access or resources he needs. At the conclusion of Mr. Mueller’s investigation, we will receive his findings on behalf of the League’s owners.
We have spoken with Mr. Mueller today, and he has informed us he is prepared to begin immediately. No timeline was established and we stressed that he should take as much time as necessary to complete a thorough investigation. We agreed that the scope of the investigation should be aimed at getting answers to specific questions, including what efforts were made by league staff to obtain the video of what took place inside the elevator and to determine whether, in fact, the video was ever delivered to someone at the league office, and if so, what happened to the video after it was delivered.
Mr. Mueller assured us that his investigation will be thorough and independent, and that he will keep us informed of his progress. We asked Mr Mueller to report his conclusions to us to be shared with NFL Owners, and we agreed that his final report will be shared with the public.
Our sole motive here is to get the truth and then share Mr. Mueller’s findings with the public.
Mueller, the former director of the FBI, now works for the WilmerHale law firm, a firm that helped represent the league in its Sunday Ticket contract negotiations with DirectTV, and employed current Ravens president Dick Cass for 30 years. So, there are tenuous ties to impartiality there. In addition, the oversight by Mara and Rooney makes this a very complex exercise, if transparency is truly the goal. Mara and Rooney are perhaps Goodell's two biggest mentors in the league. Goodell penned the introduction to Dan Rooney's book about his 75 years in the NFL, and it was the elder Rooney who knocked on Goodell's Chicago hotel room door in 2006 to let him know that he had been voted to his current position.
As for Mara... well, the complications get more complicated. On Sept. 10, Mara released this statement regarding the TMZ-released video:
Many of us were dissatisfied with the original two-game suspension of Ray Rice. The Commissioner took responsibility for that in his August 28th memo to the owners when he stated, 'I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.' He then took appropriate steps to address this matter. Our policy now on domestic violence has been strengthened. We have all learned a valuable lesson from this episode. We now have a strong partnership with anti-domestic violence groups, and we will be a better League for it going forward.
My understanding is that the League and the Ravens made repeated requests to obtain the video of the Ray Rice incident and were denied each time. The notion that the League should have gone around law enforcement to obtain the video is, in my opinion, misguided, as is the notion that the Commissioner's job is now in jeopardy. The video is appalling, and I believe that the team and the League took appropriate action after they finally had the opportunity to view it.
There is no place for domestic violence in our sport or in our society, and we are committed to doing our part to prevent such heinous acts going forward.
So, one day before Mara was put in charge of the investigation, he released a statement saying that any notion of Goodell's job insecurity was "misguided." Move along; nothing to see here.
The last time Mara helped to spearhead a major NFL disciplinary process as a member of the league's Management Council was March, 2012, when the Cowboys and Redskins were docked a total of $46 million from their salary caps over a two-year period when it was decreed that the teams had engaged in "illegal" contract restructuring during the NFL's uncapped year of 2010.
"I thought the penalties imposed were proper," Mara said after the fact. "What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap. They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole, and quite frankly, I think they're lucky they didn't lose draft picks."
Never mind that there was no salary cap, and therefore no spirit. Never mind that the assumption of that "spirit" basically puts the NFL in a state of collusion. Never mind that all of those salary adjustments were approved by the league office at the time. Never mind that other teams made similar salary adjustments during that time. Surely, Mara wept real tears when two of his team's divisional rivals were left with reduced caps in a capricious and highly questionable process.
Again... move along; nothing to see here.
As for the Ravens, who are of course a divisional rival of Rooney's Steelers, they're just trying to bail water. And as one would expect of a water-bailing entity, they're toeing the company line for all it's worth.
"I believe Roger when he says he never saw it," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti told CBS's James Brown on Thursday about the tape. "If the allegation is true that it got to the league office, then somebody was negligent in not getting it to Roger. I've known Roger for 14 years; he's dedicated his life to the NFL, and as a man, I can't believe he saw that video and gave a two-game suspension. That's what makes it hard for me to believe."
Bisciotti then inferred that the source who gave the information that the league had been in possession of that video for months may have been trying to defer pressure from the New Jersey police.
Problem is, whether Goodell saw the tape or not before Monday is not the only point in question. Several different sources told the ESPN investigative show Outside the Lines that Rice told Goodell that he had hit his fiancé when the two men met on June 16.
"Ray didn't lie to the commissioner," one source said. "He told the full truth to Goodell -- he made it clear he had hit her, and he told Goodell he was sorry and that it wouldn't happen again."
That would contradict Goodell's contention that Rice was "ambiguous" in his statements to Goodell. You can't get much clearer than "I hit her, I'm sorry, and I won't do it again."
"As you acknowledged during our meeting, your conduct was unquestionably inconsistent with league policies and the standard of behavior required of everyone who is part of the NFL," Goodell wrote in his original suspension letter to Rice, received July 24. "The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public, and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game. This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women."
This is especially true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women when such things are captured on video, and leave powerful and important businessmen with their figurative pants around their figurative ankles.
In Dec., 2012, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue released his decision regarding the reversal of suspensions given to several New Orleans Saints players by Roger Goodell in the wake of the BountyGate scandal. Tagliabue had to clean up a mess that Goodell created when he positioned himself as judge, jury and executioner in the bounty case -- a decision that was overturned by several different entities before Tagliabue got hold of it -- and eventually, Goodell had to recuse himself from the entire process.
While Tagliabue pointed to possible evidence linking Saints coaches and players to possible pay-for-injury violations, he also said that the entire investigation had been contaminated by members of New Orleans' front office. He then questioned Goodell's handling of the case, based on credible precedent that Tagliabue himself had set while in office.
"The NFL in its policies sends a mixed message by allowing 'kangaroo courts' where players are fined for mental lapses and other on-field mistakes but prohibiting any distributions to players via those courts," Tagliabue said in his ruling. "Most important, no matter what the League rules and policies are or have been, if many teams in the League allow pay-for-performance programs to operate in the locker room, as seems to be the case, and, in the main, the League has tolerated this behavior without punishment of players, then many players may not have a clear understanding that such behavior is prohibited or where the lines are between permissible and impermissible conduct."
Not that any NFL player, coach or executive should need guidance from the league when it comes to the idea that domestic violence is a societal blight, but Tagliabue's larger point is this: Goodell reacted sharply and harshly, and outside the parameters of his position. He did so again in the Rice case, either through obfuscation of the facts, or incompetence in his job, and one wonders who on the current investigative team will have enough juice to a.) prove it; and b.) get it past the NFL's dual truth goalies in Mara and Rooney.
This is why Tagliabue would have been the ideal arbiter in this current investigation; and it is almost certainly why he will not be a part of the process. The NFL appears to be looking for a clean and expedient end to a process that has been mangled from the start, and whether the results are truly accurate and transparent seem to take second place in importance.
There is nobody involved in this current investigation who doesn't have current ties to the NFL. There is nobody involved who has not profited immensely, whether directly or indirectly, from the NFL's current financial growth. There is nobody involved who doesn't benefit from a easy conclusion to the entire disaster, no matter how accurate or inaccurate the results may be.
What that does to Goodell's credibility, and to the credibility of the league and the commissioner's office? We can only wonder at this point. Until, somewhere down the road, a report is released to the public.