Behind the words: A behavior analysis of NFL's statements on Rice
The NFL’s public statements from early September raise serious questions about its handling of the Ray Rice case, according to a study by a behavior assessment firm called Business Intelligence Advisors. The company was the first to apply techniques developed for the national intelligence community to analyze corporations for Wall Street in 2001. Large investors use BIA’s behavior and linguistics analysis to examine statements made by company management, and thus to make better investment decisions in these companies.
On Sept. 12, to demonstrate how its techniques could also be implemented on other subjects, the Boston-based firm applied its tools to statements made by the NFL, commissioner Roger Goodell, and Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. Though BIA cautions that the results are purely the opinion of the company, according to the analysis “it appears both the NFL and the Ravens knew of the tape’s existence, but chose either to ignore it or failed to aggressively pursue it.” The firm’s report is reproduced in full below.
(Not) Going the extra yard
"We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including any video that may exist. We spoke to members of the New Jersey State Police and reached out multiple times to the Atlantic City Police Department and the Atlantic County prosecutor's office. That video was not made available to us and no one in our office saw it until yesterday." – NFL Spokesman, September 8th 2014
The NFL remains steadfast that no one in the commissioner’s office saw the videotape of Ray Rice and his then-fiancé, Janay Palmer, in the Atlantic City casino elevator. However, when analyzed from a behavioral perspective, the NFL’s statement sheds light on the extent to which it understood the potential existence of additional video evidence and the level of effort it put into obtaining it.
The NFL states that it had a dialog with the New Jersey State Police (“spoke to members of the NJSP”), but also states that it only “reached out multiple times” to the Atlantic City Police Department and the Atlantic County prosecutor's office. First, the qualifier “multiple times” obscures just how often the NFL actually tried to contact the two Atlantic City offices (multiple times is two or more, but perhaps only once to each institution). Moreover, when speaking of its efforts to contact the Atlantic City PD and prosecutor’s offices, the phrase “reached out” is quite different from the characterization “we spoke to” used with regard to the NJSP. By explicitly not commenting on whether the league successfully made contact with either one, its statement suggests that it never actually spoke to anyone at the Atlantic City organizations. This is particularly relevant given that a NJSP spokesman advised that "investigations of incidents on the casino floor are handled by the NJSP, but this occurred in the elevator and was handled by the [Atlantic City Police Department].
Also, by using the language “reached out,” the NFL is trying to give the impression that it proactively pursued as much information as possible about the Ray Rice incident, hoping the public will conclude that its efforts were thwarted by unresponsive Atlantic City authorities. (We note that as of now, there is some strong evidence that this was not the case based on a voicemail from an NFL representative acknowledging their office’s receipt of the tape.) However, the NFL’s attempt to appear proactive is weakened by its passive characterization that the video “was not made available” to the league, in its attempt to shift the burden of disclosure to the New Jersey and Atlantic City authorities.
Finally, the fact that the NFL characterizes its efforts as directed at “any and all information about the incident,” which it then defines to include “any video which may exist,” underscores its attempt to avoid any acknowledgement that league officials knew or suspected that more video was available.
Collectively, these behaviors suggest that the NFL was aware of the likely existence of more video evidence and that its efforts to obtain it were not as aggressive and persistent as it is now trying to convey.
Still on Defense
A subsequent interview by Roger Goodell raises the same issues as the statement from the NFL we examined above.
“On multiple occasions, we asked for it. And on multiple occasions we were told no. I understand that there may be legal restrictions on them sharing that with us. And we've heard that from attorneys general and former attorneys general.” – Roger Goodell, CBS Interview on September 9th 2014
In this later instance, Goodell attempts to convince the public that, despite trying, the NFL could not get the tape because there “may be legal restrictions.” He bolsters this claim by citing “attorneys general and former attorneys general.” Viewed literally, however, Goodell’s claim amounts to no more than speculation, given he states only his “understanding” of what he admits are uncertain and unconfirmed (“may be”) legal restrictions. From a behavioral perspective, this represents an effort by Goodell to support the reasonableness of his office’s failure to obtain the tape despite aggressively pursuing it, by implying it would have been illegal — while carefully avoiding having to state either directly.
“I don't know how TMZ or any other website gets their information. We are particularly reliant on law enforcement. That's the most reliable. It's the most credible. And we don't seek to get that information from sources that are not credible. ” – Roger Goodell, CBS Interview on September 9th 2014
During the same interview, Goodell is asked how TMZ obtained the second tape when the NFL could not. Goodell emphasizes that that they are “particularly reliant on law enforcement” and that they “don't seek to get that information from sources that are not credible. ” In addition to shifting the burden from the NFL to “law enforcement,” this response is also an attempt by Goodell to create the impression that the NFL operates according to a higher set of standards. Through this, he is implying that the NFL’s adherence to these standards is responsible for them not obtaining the tape prior to its release. By drawing this contrast with TMZ, which he subtly denounces as relying on sources “who are not credible,” he may also be anticipating having to respond to the revelation that someone from the NFL office acknowledged having received and viewed the tape, since there is some indication it was sent outside of “official” channels.
Same play from Ravens
“Absolutely,” Harbaugh said when asked if he was satisfied with the level of diligence the Ravens took to see it. “I don't know why that would be a hard thing to understand. It wasn't made available to us. It wasn't there for us. As far as I know yeah, it wasn't something we ever saw or had access to." – cbssports.com article, September 8th 2014
John Harbaugh, the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, gave a press conference after the Ray Rice elevator tape was made public that followed the same playbook as that of the NFL commissioner’s office. When addressing reporter questions about the team’s diligence efforts, Harbaugh states that the tape “wasn’t made available” to the team, which is an effort to suggest that it was not possible to get the tape regardless of their efforts. However, Harbaugh never addresses what kind of effort the team made to obtain the tape or other evidence. He states only that “it wasn’t there,” offering nothing to suggest that the team took any serious steps to obtain it.
Of more behavioral concern is Harbaugh’s need to go on the offensive by belittling the reporter for inquiring into why the team didn’t have or couldn’t get the tape. He does this by stating, “I don’t know why that is such a hard thing to understand.” This signals Harbaugh’s desire to end the public scrutiny on this topic, most likely out of concern that the actions that the team undertook to pursue the matter would not be able to withstand it.