Steve Bisciotti tries to give transparency, but it's hard to do in NFL

In lengthy news conference, Ravens owner tries to give team's version of events after recent report

September 22, 2014|Peter Schmuck | The Schmuck Stops Here

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti spent nearly 50 minutes in front of the media Monday afternoon, trying again to dispel the notion that the team has been less than forthcoming in its handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal.

This time, it was to specifically dispute a recent report that portrayed the Ravens as a team that knew more than it let on about the severity of Rice's attack on then-fiancee Janay Palmer and lobbied to limit the disciplinary action handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The report also said the team tried to minimize Rice's punishment in the legal process

Bisciotti is, by nature, a guy who doesn't go looking for the nearest microphone. He generally speaks to the media a small handful of times each year, but this was his fourth high-profile media appearance in the last two weeks, and it was obvious that he recognized his team was sinking deeper into a serious credibility crisis.

He must have known that by releasing a point-by-point refutation of the ESPN report moments before taking the stage that some would feel he was — as Shakespeare might have put it — protesting too much. But the Ravens promised transparency after bungling their investigation of the Rice incident, and Bisciotti was there to provide their version of it.

Trouble is, it's hard to look transparent when you're one of 32 NFL teams that live every day in a bubble of secrecy and deception. They might be able to look up the word in the dictionary, but transparency is definitely not in the league's DNA.

The Ravens are always in a state of tight institutional control, which makes it difficult to believe that they suddenly morphed out of it when Rice made national headlines in that Atlantic City casino on Feb. 15. The tendency to close ranks and protect The Castle is written right into their chromosomes.

The team says that club executives did absolutely nothing to try and influence Goodell regarding the length of Rice's punishment prior to the announcement of the original two-game suspension is a hard sell when it's fairly routine for sports teams to work behind the scenes to mitigate discipline that might impact them on the field.

If you need proof, the Orioles were quite open about it when they tried to get Manny Machado's five-game suspension reduced after his immature bat-throwing incident in June, citing precedent in much the same way the Ravens rationalized originally accepting the logic of Rice's two-game ban.

There obviously is no comparison between Machado's on-field tantrum and the seriousness of the Rice incident, but the Ravens have already admitted that they didn't fully grasp the full nature of it, and Bisciotti said Monday that he never considered adding another layer to the league's discipline at the time.

Nothing has fundamentally changed since the second elevator video shocked the nation on Sept. 8 and prompted the team to release Rice, except the national perception of the Ravens and the NFL as it became apparent how clueless they were about the ugly societal impact of domestic violence and how little both the team and the league did to enlighten themselves before the issue exploded in their faces.

Bisciotti already had admitted that he let his personal affection for Rice cloud his judgment before seeing the damning inside-the-elevator images. He also has apologized for the team's failure to make a stronger attempt to obtain the video. The reason he was back in front of the media on Monday was because — as he put it — the report went beyond earlier attacks on his team's competence and directly challenged its integrity.

It isn't easy to smoke an NFL team out like that, particularly with an owner who prefers to remain far of the spotlight, but the Ravens have been saying for the past two weeks that the only way the team can get past the greatest public relations crisis of the Bisciotti ownership era is by being open, honest and transparent.

That doesn't come naturally, as evidenced by a postgame moment on Sunday when Coach John Harbaugh addressed the Rice situation after admitting that team officials didn't want him to answer any questions about it.

The same kind of thing happened at the league level on Friday when Goodell spent his big news conference talking about transparency and then using the pending Robert Mueller investigation as an excuse to dodge some uncomfortable questions.

Bisciotti answered them all Monday, but that won't stop people from wondering what really happened.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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