NFL under more scrutiny about Ray Rice investigation as Ravens return to field

Questions surround investigator; senators call for stronger stance against domestic violence

September 11, 2014|By Childs Walker | The Baltimore Sun

As the Ravens prepared to host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night, activists and political leaders continued to question the NFL over the investigation of the team's former running back, Ray Rice, and its stance against domestic violence.

Even as the NFL announced a review of its efforts to obtain video footage of Rice striking his then-fiancee, critics assailed the league's choice of former FBI director Robert S. Mueller as an investigator, citing potential conflicts of interest.

A group of female U.S. senators joined the growing list of influential figures calling for the league to take a stronger stance against domestic violence, while some sponsors of the NFL, including FedEx and Marriott, released statements Thursday saying they were watching developments closely.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell continued to face calls for his resignation after the Associated Press reported an anonymous law enforcement source said he'd mailed a copy of the Rice footage to a league official in April, three months before Rice received an initial two-game suspension.

Rice told Goodell in June that he had punched then-fiancee Janay Palmer, according to four unnamed sources cited in an ESPN report. That seemed to contradict Goodell's assertion in interviews this week that Rice's verbal account of the incident was ambiguous. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome told the Baltimore Sun Wednesday that Rice “did not lie to me” about the incident. The police report said that Rice “committed assault by striking her with his hand rendering her unconscious.”

The Rice story created a tense and unique backdrop for a game that was important to the Ravens in pure football terms. After a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, an announced sellout crowd of 71,181 badly wanted to see their team defeat Pittsburgh. But talk of the fierce rivalry was scarce all week as a nation of football lovers instead focused on fallout from TMZ's release of the Rice video.

Outside of M&T Bank Stadium, the number of people wearing Rice jerseys had declined, fans said, but Brandon Pindell and Lauren Brown, both from Bel Air, walked hand-in-hand into the stadium in their their No. 27 shirts Thursday. They said the Rice jerseys were the only Ravens jerseys they owned. Despite how the situation surrounding Rice played out recently, Brown said she “would have worn it anyway.”

The Ravens issued about 700 media credentials for the game, more than twice as many as for Sunday's opener. CBS altered its pre-game coverage, dropping planned football discussion, a Rihanna song and a comedic segment in favor of an interview with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and analysis from Norah O'Donnell, who interviewed Goodell on Tuesday.

Bisciotti told CBS he did not want Goodell to resign. “I believe Roger when he says he never saw [the video],” the Ravens owner said. “If the allegation is true that it got to the league office, then somebody is negligent in not getting that to Roger. I've known Roger for 14 years and he's dedicated his life to the NFL and as a man, I can't believe that he saw that video and gave a two-game suspension.”

The NFL announced late Wednesday night that it had appointed Mueller to investigate the league's handling of evidence in the Rice case and to issue a public report. The league said New York Giants owner John Mara and Steelers owner Art Rooney II would oversee the investigation.

But those choices quickly came under scrutiny because Mara and Rooney are close to Goodell and Mueller works for the law firm WilmerHale, which employed Ravens president Dick Cass for 30 years and recently helped the NFL negotiate a multi-billion-dollar deal with DirecTV.

National Organization of Women president Terry O'Neill, who had earlier called for Goodell's resignation, dismissed the Mueller investigation as “just window dressing.”

“Mr. Mueller assured us that his investigation will be thorough and independent, and that he will keep us informed of his progress,” Mara and Rooney said in a joint statement. “Our sole motive here is to get the truth and then share Mr. Mueller's findings with the public.”

The owners said Mueller is ready to begin his investigation immediately. There is no timetable for the investigation, but the NFL said the findings will be made public.

Senators not satisfied

Meanwhile, 16 female U.S. senators, including Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski, sent a letter to the league, calling for a “real zero-tolerance policy” against domestic violence.

In addition to expressing disgust over the footage of Rice released Monday, the senators wrote that they weren't satisfied with stricter penalties the league announced recently, which would include a six-game penalty for first offenders and a possible lifetime ban for repeat offenders.

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