NFL security in spotlight over Ray Rice

League and teams hire former local, federal law enforcement to both protect and investigate players

  • A video frame grab from a video obtained by TMZ Sports of Ray Rice in an altercation with his then fiance, Janay Palmer. They have since gotten married. The fight took place in an elevator in an Atlantic City casino.
A video frame grab from a video obtained by TMZ Sports of Ray Rice… (TMZ, Baltimore Sun )
September 13, 2014|By Jean Marbella | The Baltimore Sun

The furor over former Raven Ray Rice thrust the issue of domestic violence into the spotlight, but it also highlighted a part of football that fans likely spend little time thinking about: the league's security apparatus.

Staffed largely by former police and federal law enforcement personnel — often high-ranking ones — the security departments maintained by the league and individual teams have a reputation of being able to work their contacts and launch behind-the-scenes investigations at the first sign of trouble.

That explains the derision NFL commissioner Roger Goodell faced this week when he said the league had tried but failed to get the video that was released by gossip site TMZ on Monday and showed Rice punching his future wife in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino.

"They are expert investigators, former federal agents, a lot of police chiefs, a lot of detectives — they know exactly what they're doing," ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson said on the Dan Le Batard radio show. "And if they want something, believe me, they can get it."

The sentiment has been echoed all week — former players talked about how the league and teams scrutinized their backgrounds before they were drafted, for example, and one former team security official anonymously told CBS that he had never been denied surveillance tapes by hotels, clubs or even local law enforcement agencies.

On the record, though, at least one former security director said otherwise.

"None of us is James Bond, 'I'm going to go in and get your film,'" said Lewis C. Merletti, who spent 13 years heading the Cleveland Browns' security operation.

Merletti's background as a former director of the U.S. Secret Service contributes to the NFL's reputation for hiring from the highest levels of law enforcement. He had protected three presidents, concluding with Bill Clinton, when then-Browns owner Al Lerner hired him in 1998. Merletti left when the Lerner family sold the team in 2012.

Merletti said NFL security is being criticized unfairly in the Rice affair.

"The right way for the NFL to get that film is through law enforcement," Merletti said. "There are laws, there are protocols. [NFL security officers] are retired law enforcement, and they know what the law is."

The NFL hired its first security director, Jim Hamilton, a former intelligence official with the Los Angeles Police Department, in 1963 to deal with a scandal over players betting on games. The current NFL chief security officer is Jeffrey Miller, who formerly headed the Pennsylvania State Police.

The Ravens list a five-member security team, led by Darren Sanders, a former Baltimore homicide detective. The team declined to make him available to comment for this article.

Merletti said team security departments focus on proactive, educational programs for players so that it's not just "a call in the middle of the night."

"It's life skills," Merletti said of the programs that addressed everything from how to deal with police stops for speeding to domestic violence. "It almost becomes brotherly or fatherly advice to the player. It's not just taking care of them when they get in trouble."

Some teams seek extra help beyond their own security. A company called Player Protect, started by John Scutellaro, a former Hoboken, N.J., police officer, and Rodney Hampton, an ex-New York Giants running back, contracts with teams to provide driving and bodyguard service for their athletes.

Scutellaro, the company's CEO, said former officers such as himself can help deflect any problems players might face when they're out and about.

But the player has to want the service, he said.

"They're all grown men. You can't force this on anyone," Scutellaro said. "But the players have our numbers, they can call and say, 'Here's where we're going, here's when to pick us up.'"

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jean_marbella

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