In early September, amid an intensifying, national furor over his discipline of former star Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tried to assuage the league's fans, concerned politicians, outraged domestic violence advocates, and team owners.
The league, he told a national television audience on Sept. 9, would have been harder on Rice had its investigators obtained a full video recording of Rice assaulting his then-fiancee in a casino elevator. Goodell's investigators had asked four law enforcement agencies "for the video, we asked for anything that was pertinent, but we were never granted that opportunity."
On Sept. 10, Goodell wrote a memo to all 32 team owners -- his bosses -- and said the same, assuring them that "on multiple occasions, we asked the proper law enforcement authorities to share with us all relevant information, including any video of the incident." He cited the "New Jersey State Police, the Atlantic City Police Department, the Atlantic County Police Department and the Atlantic County Solicitor's Office."
But one day before Goodell sent that memo, the league's lead investigator on the Rice matter had actually told the league's director of security that he had never requested the inside-casino elevator video from the one law enforcement agency that actually had it, the Atlantic City Police Department: "Again, I never spoke to anyone at the casino or the police department about the tape," NFL investigator Jim Buckley wrote in a Sept. 9 email to NFL executive vice president and chief security officer Jeffrey B. Miller. The last e-mail on the chain from Buckley says: "I never contacted anyone about the tape."
The exchange is contained in a 631-page transcript of the Ray Rice suspension-appeal hearing heard in early November, a copy of which was obtained by "Outside the Lines." The arbitrator, former federal judge Barbara S. Jones, heard from eight witnesses before overturning Rice's indefinite suspension on Nov. 28, finding that Goodell's suspension of Rice on Sept. 8 was "arbitrary" and "an abuse of discretion" and that Rice had never misrepresented to Goodell and other league officials what had occurred on Feb. 15 at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, N.J. "The commissioner needed to be fair and consistent in his imposition of discipline," Jones wrote.
Goodell's handling of the Rice disciplinary matter and his public comments about it have represented the most damaging crisis of his eight years at the helm of the NFL, raising questions among fans, players, commentators and politicians about his leadership, judgment and credibility. Goodell's initial two-game suspension of Rice in late July was widely criticized as too lenient. The criticism grew louder after TMZ on Sept. 8 released the inside-elevator video of Rice striking Janay Palmer, and the league's subsequent indefinite suspension of Rice did little to calm things.
On Nov. 5, Goodell took the witness stand, under oath, on the first day of Rice's two-day appeal hearing in New York that challenged his indefinite suspension by the commissioner.
On the critical question about what Rice had told Goodell about the incident, the commissioner testified that Rice had said he "slapped" his fiance and had "minimized the impact of the physical contact" during the June 16 meeting. Goodell testified Rice "specifically implied that it was not the blow that did any damage, it was actually the fact that she fell and knocked herself out. I'm assuming, implying that it was the elevator, the railing or the wall."
But on day two of the hearing, Nov. 6, Rice testified: "I told the commissioner I hit her, she hit her head, and I did not ever mention that she slipped and hit her head and that's what knocked her out. Never mentioned to that extreme to an extent where a slap, that she slipped, hit her head and knocked herself out. Those words never came out of my mouth."
"You never told the commissioner it was your slap?" Rice's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, asked.
"It wasn't a slap," Rice said. "I told the commissioner that I hit her, she hit her head on the railing."
Over the course of his two-hour cross-examination by a union lawyer, Goodell was pressed on various other issues, including his knowledge of the investigative steps taken by league officials, his decisions in other disciplinary cases and inconsistencies between his public statements and internal emails and memos.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday that "The transcript and entire proceeding, other than her final decision, were subject to a confidentiality order signed by Judge Jones. We will continue to respect the process." NFLPA spokesman George Atallah declined to comment.
The portrait of Goodell that emerges from the hearing is of a chief executive who is comfortable with delegating to his leadership team and who relied on his security staffers to come to him with information about the Rice case; of a leader who could not recall several key details of the Rice matter or prior disciplinary cases he oversaw; of a self-described disciplinarian who didn't ask Rice any questions about the altercation during the player's June 16 disciplinary hearing; of a CEO who more than once contradicted himself on key questions during the hearing.
One of those contradictions came during questioning from NFL Players Association lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, who pressed Goodell on what he knew about his investigators' attempts to obtain the inside-elevator video.
Kessler: "... you said, 'we asked for it on several occasions according to our security department. We went through it, we asked for it on several occasions over the spring, all the way through June.' You see that statement? Did you make a comment like that?"
Goodell: "Yes, I remember that."
Kessler: "Did you ever learn before or after that that in fact no formal request was made for videos about your security department of the police department who had it is that in fact they never made such a formal request?"
Goodell: "[What] does a formal request mean?"
Kessler: "Are you aware that there [are] laws in the State of New Jersey where people can file formal requests for information from the police department?"
Goodell: "I'm not an attorney."
Kessler: "Let me just say, is it your understanding when you made your second decision that your people had done whatever formal means they could to get the first video or not? Do you have any understanding of that one way or the other?"
Goodell: "I had an understanding they had asked for any information that would be pertinent to this case. It would be helpful to us and we'd get a very limited amount of information. I think what's mentioned in the indictment and the pre-trial intervention there may have been other information."
Kessler: "Would it have affected your determination if you had seen an e-mail in which the security person responsible said I never specifically made a formal request of the police department for any tapes, would that have affected your determination at all if you had that information?"
Goodell: "As I said before, I don't know what you mean by formal, but I know they requested the tape."
The NFL's attorney at this point objected to the line of questioning, and the judge agreed to stop it, but Kessler persisted.
Kessler: "So on September 9th, Mr. Buckley writes to Mr. Miller, 'again, I never spoke to anyone from the casino or police department about the tape.' Okay. What I'm going to ask you, did you ever become aware prior to imposing your second discipline that security people had not really spoken to the police department or the casino about getting the inside the elevator tape?"
Goodell: "I wasn't aware of the fact that they tried to get it from law enforcement. I do not know the specifics."
On Wednesday, Goodell attended the winter owners' meeting in Irving, Texas, and revealed a tougher personal conduct policy for players who get in trouble. "I blew it," Goodell told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Tuesday. "Our penalties didn't fit the crimes." The Journal reported that internal league documents show that since 2000, there have been 135 domestic violence allegations against NFL players. Adjudication of the cases varied from charges being dropped after wives or girlfriends withdrew the accusations to no-contest pleas by players. The league punishments typically were, at most, one-game suspensions, documents given to The Journal show.
Former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, who was appointed by Goodell on Sept. 11, continues to investigate the league's handling of the Rice investigation. Mueller's report is expected within weeks.
Other highlights from the appeal hearing transcript:
Goodell testified that part of his initial punishment of Rice was based upon information from NFLPA lawyer Heather McPhee. Goodell testified that at the June 16 hearing in his office, "Heather spoke very impassionately. She talked about the fact that this video is not what it appears to be. We pressed her. [NFL executive vice president] Adolpho [Birch], I think, pressed her on that issue. She continued to say I know this case is not what it appears to be. The media is making more of it than what it is, it doesn't appear what it is."
Goodell's handwritten notes from that hearing were difficult to read and purposely not extensive, he testified, because he prefers to observe players' actions during a disciplinary hearing. The commissioner struggled during his testimony to decipher his notes' precise meaning and context. Nearly all of Goodell's notes deal with Ray Rice's positive character traits, including phrases like "he's own it" and "terrible mistake," and the notes quote Ravens president Dick Cass calling Rice the team's "go-to guy" and references to Rice's "anti-bullying campaign." Only one of Goodell's notes deal with the altercation -- he wrote the word "struck," which Goodell initially testified had referred to Janay striking Ray, though he later said it could have referred to Rice saying he had struck Janay.
Two sources in February told NFL security team members of the alleged severity of what happened inside the elevator. NFL investigator Mario Di Fonzo wrote to Miller that, "One alleged eyewitness account reports Rice struck his fiance one time in the face and knocked her unconscious." Miller testified that Buckley also in February contacted "a reliable and confidential source" who told him "an altercation between Rice and his fiance initially took place inside an elevator cab at Revel Casino wherein Rice was initially assaulted by his fiance. She slapped him in the face. In turn it was reported Rice allegedly struck her, unknown whether a slap or closed fist. The elevator door opened and Rice removed the fiance from elevator cab and she was prone."
Rice testified that Goodell did not ask him any questions about the altercation itself during the June 16 meeting and that vice president Birch "might have asked one question," about alcohol. In his notes taken during the meeting, Birch wrote only two words: "bottle service."
After initially suspending Rice for two games in late July, Goodell testified he was unaware that organizations for women's rights had denounced the NFL: "I don't recall that specifically," he testified. Kessler then asked, "Do you remember that there were media commentators who called for your resignation or for you to be fired?" Goodell replied, "I don't recall that, no." On Aug. 28, Goodell changed the league's personal conduct policy, increasing the mandatory penalty for a first offense for domestic violence to a six-game suspension and declaring he had "got it wrong" when he gave Rice a two-game suspension.
NFL officials never asked the Ravens for help obtaining the inside-elevator video, according to testimony by Goodell and Miller. A detailed description of the inside-elevator video was given by an Atlantic City police officer to Ravens security chief Darren Sanders in February. Miller said he "would have wanted" Sanders and team president Dick Cass, who also had a description of the tape given to him in the spring by Rice's defense lawyer, to pass on any information about what they knew about the video but he said that never happened. Miller said "it is also required in the personal conduct policy" for a team "to notify NFL Security once a violation occurs."
Miller was asked about a Revel Casino investigative report that flatly states Rice "had struck his fiance twice with his left hand, the first appears to be a slap to the face, the second being a punch to the facethat rendered Ms. Palmer unconscious. The assault was witnessed on camera, as it happened by SOC officer Brian." Kessler asked Miller whether the casino would have given the NFL the report if they had asked for it, which they did not. "I don't know," Miller said. "I believe they wouldn't have, but I don't know for sure."
Goodell received several NFL security reports prior to meeting with Rice on June 16 that quoted media reports and other sourced information developed by security officials saying Rice had hit his fiance and knocked her out. But he acknowledged that in some cases he "didn't read it from start to finish" and that on other notes, "I didn't look at them closely, no." One mid-February report from "The Baltimore Sun" quoted an anonymous casino source saying Rice's attack "was horrific, it shocked the conscious, he knocked her out with one punch, she was out for three minutes, he dragged her out like a limp noodle, he hit her so hard it was unbelievable, we have her ice packs for her head." Another report quoted a security official saying a source said Rice had hit his fiance. Goodell acknowledged he had seen the reports in a binder of materials provided by a NFL security official prior to the June 16 meeting with Rice. Miller said because "The Baltimore Sun" report was "anonymous" there was no way for league officials to know for sure whether it was accurate.
Goodell and Miller said they never asked Michael J. Diamondstein, Rice's Philadelphia-based defense lawyer, for a copy of the inside-elevator video, which he had received through a subpoena in April. Rice testified that he would have given permission to his lawyer to turn over a copy of the video to league officials, if they had asked for a copy.
Judge Jones, the arbitrator, told attorneys she was not familiar with TMZ and had not seen either video of the Rice incident before the hearing. She watched both videos during the hearing.
The commissioner was criticized by domestic violence advocates for interviewing Rice and his wife together. But testimony shows that Janay Rice attended the disciplinary hearing at the request of Cass and Newsome, not Goodell. Ray Rice testified he also had not asked her to attend the hearing. Cass and Newsome said they attended the hearing to show support for Ray and that neither Rice nor Goodell had asked them to attend.
Birch testified that during the disciplinary hearing he never asked Rice any follow-up questions about his description of striking Janay in the elevator: "No, I did not ask the nature of how hard was it or - no, I didn't at the time. I didn't feel it was appropriate." Birch also testified that he could not recall Rice saying he had slapped Janay Rice during the altercation.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome testified he had heard Rice tell the commissioner, "I hit her," at the June 16 hearing. Newsome said Rice had consistently told him the same account of what had happened from their first discussion about it in February. "Ray told me he had hit Janay and I saw that in the video," Newsome testified.
Attorneys and witnesses sparred over just how aggressive the league was in trying to get a copy of the full video. The four law enforcement agencies that Goodell told the owners the league had sought the video from were the "New jersey State Police, the Atlantic County Solicitor's Office, the Atlantic County Police Department and the Atlantic City Police Department."
However, none of those agencies say they had a formal request from the NFL for any such video. Three of the four agencies named by Goodell never had a copy of the surveillance video; only the Atlantic City Police Department had it, but it never received a written request from the NFL, Miller testified.
Jones' ruling, however, came down to whether Rice had been truthful in how he relayed the events to Goodell.
McPhee, who attended that June 16 hearing, testified that she had concerns about advice that Cass, the Ravens president, had given to Rice moments before the hearing with Goodell. McPhee testified that she had just advised Ray Rice to "be honest, use candor and express remorse" in front of Goodell. Cass then spoke up, she testified.
"He said, 'I completely agree with what Heather just said, Ray -- be yourself. I would suggest there are different ways to describe what happened honestly, and it would be truthful to say [you] lay [your] hands on" Janay, McPhee testified. McPhee, who testified that she and Cass get along well and that Cass is a "great guy," did not like the advice.
"So I said, 'Well, Dick, I see what you are saying. I would respectfully suggest that sounds ... as an attempt to soften the description of what occurred in the altercation."
"... So I was trying to sort of not say, 'Please don't use that language that the president of your team just said,' but to me it sounded like a suggestion that he tried to soften the language. Ray had always used consistent language with me and it was never anything about laying hands on his wife."
Cass, who was not called to testify during the hearing, said he understood McPhee's point, she said.
In her ruling against the league, Jones said she weighed all of the notes presented by witnesses. On one side were notes from Goodell, Birch and league lawyer Kevin Manara; the other, McPhee. Though Manara had notes that Rice told Goodell he had slapped Janay, "More persuasive to me," Jones wrote, "are McPhee's more detailed and careful notes, which emphasize the exact words Rice said with quotation marks."
Ray and Janay Rice testified that Goodell had a private 10-minute meeting with them after the hearing in his office. The three spoke mostly about how Ray Rice could be an advocate, going forward, to speak out against domestic violence.
Goodell recalled, "It was mostly Ray explaining that he regrets the situation, showed remorse, showed accountability that they are doing the work, engaged in counseling to get their relationship back into a healthy direction, that he was sorry to the league, and that he was going to do the right thing in the long term. He stressed again his child, the importance of his child, and making sure they are doing the right thing."