The NFL appointed an independent investigator to look into its handling of the Ray Rice case Wednesday night, hours after a new report contradicted the league’s insistence no one in the league office saw video until Monday that depicted Rice striking his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City hotel.
That report by the Associated Press came as several people familiar with the inner workings of the league said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has no plans to heed the calls for him to resign over his handling of the case.
The league announced Wednesday night that Robert S. Mueller III, former director of the FBI, will “conduct an independent investigation into the NFL’s pursuit and handling of evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.”
Owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers are to oversee the investigation, according to the league.
The final report resulting from the investigation will be released to the public, the NFL said.
According to the league’s announcement, Goodell has promised that Mueller, a Washington-based partner in the law firm WilmerHale, will be granted “the full cooperation of NFL personnel and access to all NFL records.”
Earlier Wednesday, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press he sent the video to an NFL executive in early April. The AP reported the official played a 12-second voicemail from April 9 from an NFL office number in which a female voice confirmed the arrival of the video, expressed thanks and said, “You’re right. It’s terrible.”
The AP did not provide the name of the law enforcement official.
Prior to the report, Goodell was said to be adamant he would not resign.
“That’s not a consideration,” said a league source speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized, he said, to speak on Goodell’s behalf.
Another source in a similar position said there was “no chance” of a Goodell resignation, and two others echoed that sentiment. Reached following the publication of the AP report, one of those league sources believed nothing had changed in Goodell’s stance.
Criticism of Goodell and the league has intensified following Monday’s release of the footage from inside the elevator by TMZ. Earlier Wednesday, the National Organization for Women called for Goodell’s resignation.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) issued a statement late Wednesday afternoon, calling for his resignation if the report is true, saying Goodell has an insurmountable “credibility gap.”
Wednesday night, Goodell canceled a scheduled appearance in Charlotte for an event honoring Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.
Prior to the AP report, Goodell appeared to have the support of the owners of the 32 NFL franchises, who elected him to succeed Paul Tagliabue as commissioner in 2006.
Goodell’s stance was said to remain unchanged Wednesday night. A person familiar with the league’s planning said Goodell “never” would consider resigning, and added: “No reason to.”
An executive with one NFL team said Tuesday that “if you’re asking me if people are ready to throw [Goodell] overboard because of this, the answer is no. I don’t think that would be a correct interpretation.”
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft expressed support for Goodell during an appearance Tuesday on CBS.
The Baltimore Ravens released Rice on Monday after the video became public and the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely. In July, the league had suspended Rice for two games. That punishment was widely criticized as being insufficient. Goodell, after initially defending the penalty, later admitted he’d made a mistake. He also toughened the sport’s penalties for future domestic violence cases.
The NFL and the Ravens consistently have said they did not view the new video before Monday. A previously released video had shown Rice pulling Palmer, who was apparently unconscious, from the elevator. That video was taken from outside the elevator. Images of the blow that appeared to render her unconscious were not public until Monday.
Mara also backed Goodell, saying in a written statement Wednesday it is “misguided” to believe that Goodell could lose his job. That statement also came prior to the AP report.
“My understanding is that the League and the Ravens made repeated requests to obtain the video of the Ray Rice incident and were denied each time,” Mara said. “The notion that the League should have gone around law enforcement to obtain the video is, in my opinion, misguided, as is the notion that the Commissioner’s job is now in jeopardy. The video is appalling, and I believe that the team and the League took appropriate action after they finally had the opportunity to view it.”
Goodell wrote a memo to NFL teams Wednesday in which he reiterated his stance that the NFL did not see the video of what happened inside the elevator until Monday. He also reiterated that the league was rebuffed in its attempts to obtain the video from law enforcement.
“None of the law enforcement entities we approached was permitted to provide any video or other investigatory material to us,” Goodell wrote. “As is customary in disciplinary cases, the suspension imposed on Mr. Rice in July was based on the information available to us at that time.”
Goodell wrote that the league “did not ask the Atlantic City casino directly for the video.” The casino would have been prohibited by law from giving the video to the NFL, wrote Goodell, who added that “our longstanding policy in matters like this . . . is to cooperate with law enforcement and take no action to interfere with the criminal justice system.”