Former FBI director Robert Mueller’s report on the NFL’s Ray Rice incident is out, saying no one in the NFL office, including Commissioner Roger Goodell, saw the video of Rice knocking out his future wife in an Atlantic City elevator before the video became public.
That’s very good news for Goodell, who almost immediately received a strong vote of confidence from two of the most respected team presidents in the game, John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Goodell’s job is safe. He’s going nowhere.
Mueller did admonish the league, however, for deferring to law enforcement and the results of the criminal justice system – which, in Rice’s case, appallingly resulted only in court-supervised counseling – and not focusing enough on its responsibility to investigate and punish its own.
This, too, is very good news, because it means that the NFL’s new, stronger policy on personal conduct and behavior on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault is likely to get tougher still, which should be a signal to all other leagues and sports entities, nationally and internationally, just how serious these crimes are.
Mueller said exactly that, urging a no-nonsense toughness going forward in investigating professional athletes, a tone that we’ve never heard before in the world of sports:
“That deference (to law enforcement) led to deficiencies in the League’s collection and analysis of information during its investigation,” Mueller said. “We conclude that there was substantial information about the incident that should have put the League on notice of a need to undertake a more thorough investigation to obtain available evidence of precisely what occurred inside the elevator.
“Had the League done so,” he added, “it may have uncovered additional information about the incident, possibly including the in-elevator video prior to its public release.”
Mueller’s message appeared to resonate with Mara and Rooney.
“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.
“We were slow to react, and in the case of Ray Rice, the original punishment was insufficient. In addition, the steps taken by the NFL to investigate this matter were inadequate. Since then, a new policy concerning domestic violence and other rules for conduct violations have been put into place. We believe these new policies are tough and appropriate.”
This is a kind of contrition rarely if ever heard from the all-powerful NFL. And that wasn’t all.
“This matter has tarnished the reputation of the NFL due to our failure to hand out proper punishments,” Mara and Rooney said. “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.”
If that in fact becomes true, and the announcement last month of the NFL’s new personal conduct policy would seem to indicate that it will, the horrid Rice affair could end up turning into one of the best learning experiences to occur within the NFL, and throughout sports.