A law enforcement official told the Associated Press on Wednesday that video footage of football player Ray Rice hitting and knocking his then-fiancee, Janay Rice, unconscious was sent to the NFL in April -- a claim that directly contradicts NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s argument that no NFL officials had seen the footage before Monday.
As a result of the league's handling of the incident, which took place in February before the couple married, fans, women's rights groups, and lawmakers have leveled harsh criticism at the organization and Goodell in particular, with several calling on the NFL commissioner to resign.
Goodell initially suspended Rice, a Baltimore Ravens running back, for just two games after video surfaced on Feb. 19 showing the athlete dragging an unconscious Janay Rice (née Palmer) out of an elevator at the Revel hotel-casino in Atlantic City. The NFL only announced the football player’s indefinite suspension from the league on Monday, after a second video from the incident was released by TMZ.
According to the AP, the law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, has a 12-second voice mail from an NFL source confirming that the office received the full tape. In the voicemail a currently unidentified female official expresses thanks and says: "You're right. It's terrible." This woman has told the AP that the NFL never followed up on her concerns.
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said that the league has no knowledge of having received the entire tape. "We are not aware of anyone who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it," he said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who has been one of the loudest and most prominent critics of Goodell and the NFL in the wake of the Rice scandal, said this new AP report strongly suggests "Goodell must go."
"The current leadership of the NFL cannot be trusted to fairly, genuinely implement policies that address domestic violence. As Roger Goodell himself said several years ago when allegations arose that the New Orleans Saints offered bounties for injuring opponents, 'ignorance is not an excuse.' The NFL has an obligation to do better, and a position of public trust - benefiting from broad anti-trust exemptions granted by Congress, and hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer benefits. If these allegations are true, Roger Goodell is part of the problem, and he is incapable of achieving a real solution," said Blumenthal in a statement on Wednesday night.
Goodell, in a memo sent on Wednesday to chief executives and club presidents, insisted again that the league did not see the second video until it was publicly released on Monday. He added that starting in February, the NFL asked multiple law enforcement authorities — including the New Jersey State Police, the Atlantic City Police Department, and the Atlantic County Solicitor’s Office — for the footage.
The commissioner said those entities were not permitted to provide the video. Goodell admits the NFL did not ask Revel directly for the video because the league’s understanding of the law was that Revel was prohibited from turning the material to a third party during a law enforcement proceeding.
“As always, we will continuously examine our procedures. I believe that we took a significant step forward with the enhanced policies on domestic violence and sexual assault that were announced last month. I also know that we will be judged on our actions going forward. I am confident that those actions will demonstrate our commitment to address this issue seriously,” Goodell wrote.
Late on Wednesday night, Ian Rapoport of Rap Sheet reported and the NFL later confirmed that ex-FBI director Robert Mueller will be conducting an investigation into the league's handling of the Rice matter. Goodell has promised his full cooperation, including access to all the league's internal files.
"Director Mueller's investigation will be overseen by NFL owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the final report will be made public. Mara and Rooney are both attorneys," Brian McCarthy, VP of communications for the NFL said in a statement on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile members of Congress on continued to demand answers and more transparency from Goodell.
A dozen Democrats on the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Goodell on Wednesday asking for greater transparency about how the league investigated the football player, who was caught on tape abusing his then-fiancée Janay Rice in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, elevator in February.
The lawmakers noted that Goodell has previously said the NFL asked for the video footage but was denied access to it.
“To our knowledge, the public has not been informed as to specifically how and in what context the request was made, and specifically how and in what context the request was made and specifically how relevant law enforcement responded,” says the letter.
The committee members added that there have not been any details released about who else may have requested the video. The letter was signed by ranking member John Conyers Jr. of Texas and 11 other senators. Separately, Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada also sent a letter to Goodell seeking additional answers. Heller says that, as the father of two daughters, protecting women from domestic violence is one of his top priorities in Congress.
"By waiting to act until [the second video] was made public you effectively condoned the action of the perpetrator himself. I cannot and will not tolerate that position by anybody let alone the National Football League," wrote Heller. He added, "This incident of domestic violence is not limited to just Ray Rice, rather I believe it is indicative of a larger pattern within the NFL."
Still, many are insisting that Goodell and the NFL’s reaction was far too late. Fans, as well as newspaper editorials and columnists across the country, are calling for Goodell to resign.
The National Organization for Women (NOW) on Wednesday also asked Goodell to step down.
Terry O’Neill, the president of NOW, said in a statement that Rice’s assault and the NFL's response demonstrated that the football organization “doesn’t have a Ray Rice problem; it has a violence against women problem.” The influential women’s rights group called for Goodell step down and for his successor to appoint an independent investigator with authority to gather data and recommend reforms on issues pertaining to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking within the NFL community.
NOW pointed to other instances in which it says the NFL did not act appropriately while under Goodell's watch. That includes the commissioner allowing Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers — who faces a felony domestic violence charge stemming from an Aug. 31 incident — to play in his team’s opening game against the Dallas Cowboys and letting Greg Hardy continue to play for the Carolina Panthers despite being convicted in July of assaulting his former girlfriend.
Goodell, who took home more than $44 million last year, told CBS in an interview that aired on Wednesday morning that he didn’t think his job was in jeopardy.
“No, I'm used to criticism. I'm used to that. Every day, I have to earn my stripes. Every day, I have to, to do a better job. And that's my responsibility to the game, to the NFL, and to what I see as society. People expect a lot from the NFL. We accept that. We embrace that,” he said. “That's our opportunity to make a difference not just in the NFL, but in society in general. We have that ability. We have that influence. And we have to do that. And every day, that's what we're going to strive to do."
Meanwhile, Janay Rice is standing by her husband. In a statement posted on Instagram, she blames the media and calls the latest developments a “horrible nightmare.”
Rice on Tuesday made his first public statement since his contract was terminated. He told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that he has to “be strong for my wife.” He added, “She is so strong. We are in good spirits. We have a lot of people praying for us and we’ll continue to support each other. I have to be there for [Janay] and my family right now and work through this.”