NEW YORK: National Football League club owners restated their support for commissioner Roger Goodell after an independent probe backed his version of events in the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal.
The confirmation of Goodell’s account that no NFL employee had seen a brutal knockout-punch elevator video before the public, and before punishment was imposed, brought resounding support in the form of a reaction letter from New York Giants president John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II on behalf of all 32 NFL club owners.
“It is clear to us that commissioner Goodell was forthright in the statements he made to the owners about this matter, and we have every confidence that Roger Goodell is the right person to lead the league as we move forward,” Mara and Rooney said.
Goodell had been criticized for issuing the former Baltimore Ravens running back only a two-game ban over a domestic violence incident last February at an Atlantic City casino.
That became an outcry of criticism after website TMZ released a video of Rice knocking out Janay Palmer, his then-fiancee whom he later married, in an elevator.
Goodell then toughened the punishment to an indefinite suspension, a move Rice later had overturned on appeal.
When an Associated Press report said a law-enforcement official had sent a copy of the elevator video to the NFL months before it was public and that a voicemail from a woman at the league office confirmed receipt of the package, some called for Goodell to be punished for trying to downplay the matter after the league had seen the brutal elevator punch.
That sparked the investigation by former FBI director Robert Mueller which ended with a report Thursday that said the league should have undertaken a more complete investigation before punishing Rice.
But it also found no evidence of anyone at the NFL having seen the video before it became public.
Mueller’s probe went through phone and computer files, mailroom packages and interviews with 50 top NFL officials as well as every woman that had been in the building on the day of the supposed voice-mail.
“His investigators reviewed millions of documents, emails and text messages,” Mara and Rooney said.
“After an exhaustive forensic search of all electronic records, the investigators found no evidence that anyone in the league received or viewed the in-elevator video prior to its release.”
The matter and other domestic violence incidents involving NFL players last season sparked a major revamp of league policy on domestic violence, including tougher punishments and more specific guidelines for league officials.
“We believe these new policies are tough and appropriate,” Rooney and Mara said.
“This matter has tarnished the reputation of the NFL due to our failure to hand out proper punishments. It has been a wake-up call to all involved and we expect the changes that have been made will lead to improvements in how any similar issues are handled in the future.”
Mara and Rooney said they spoke Thursday with Goodell and wanted to review Mueller’s suggestions for change, including creation of an NFL investigative team to handle sex assault and domestic violence cases.
“We want to review them and understand them in greater detail. We look forward to moving forward on this,” Mara and Rooney said.
“As owners, we are the first to agree that the NFL did not have a sufficient policy in place to deal with players or other personnel accused of domestic violence. As leaders of this sport, it is our responsibility to recognize the pain domestic violence causes to families in our league and in our society.”