His argument as to Goodell’s complete honesty is sheer sophistry and disingenuous at best.
Earlier today, retired federal judge Barbara Jones issued her decision in the appeal filed by the NFLPA from the indefinite suspension imposed on Ray Rice. Judge Jones vacated the indefinite suspension, finding that Mr. Rice did not mislead the Commissioner in describing his actions toward Janay Palmer, who was his fiancée. The decision turned on whether Mr. Rice told the Commissioner that he “hit” Miss Palmer (rather than that he “slapped” her) and whether he claimed that she “knocked herself out” by striking her head in the elevator. Judge Jones found that when he met with the Commissioner last June, Mr. Rice sufficiently described his conduct and that his description was not misleading when compared to the later release of the videotape from inside the hotel elevator.
NYTimes article: Did Goodell unfairly blame Rice, saying Rice misled him by playing down the elevator encounter? Jones certainly suggests so. “I do not doubt that viewing the video in September evoked horror in Commissioner Goodell, as it did with the public,” Jones said in the ruling. “But this does not change the fact that Rice did not lie or mislead the N.F.L. at the June 16 meeting.”
No part of Judge Jones’s decision questions the Commissioner’s honesty or integrity, nor his good faith consideration of the issue when he imposed the indefinite suspension on Mr. Rice. Nor is there any suggestion that the Commissioner had seen the video from inside the elevator before it became public, or knew of the contents of the video. (No, it only questions why he would change his ruling based after viewing the tape. So he is either capricious or as he averred that Rice mislead him.)
CBS This Morning Article O’Donnell: Do you wish you had seen this videotape before it was released by TMZ? Goodell: Absolutely. O’Donnell: Why? Goodell: That’s why we asked for it on several occasions. Because when we make a decision we want to have all the information that’s available. And obviously that was the — that when we met with Ray Rice and his representatives, it was ambiguous about what actually happened.
Judge Jones’s decision ends the disciplinary proceedings relating to Ray Rice. He remains free to sign with a contract and is eligible to participate without restriction upon signing a contract.
The decision has no bearing on the current work on a revised Personal Conduct Policy, nor on the initiatives announced by the Commissioner on August 28 regarding domestic violence and sexual assault. Similarly, the decision is limited to Ray Rice and should have no effect on any other pending or prospective disciplinary matters.
The Commissioner has already taken numerous steps to ensure that the unique issues addressed in the Ray Rice matter are not presented again. First, he has substantially enhanced the league’s investigative resources by engaging outside professionals with experience in domestic violence and sexual assault matters. This will help to ensure that disciplinary decisions are based on a more complete factual record, and that the record is developed with the active participation of persons with deep knowledge of these subjects.
Second, the Commissioner has announced significantly enhanced discipline for violations of the Personal Conduct Policy that involve domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and similar offenses. As Judge Jones noted in her decision, the initial discipline imposed on Ray Rice was based on the Commissioner’s desire to be consistent and fair, as well as the weight he placed on the decisions of the New Jersey prosecutors. However, as she notes, had the Commissioner decided to impose an indefinite suspension at the outset, it wouldhave been very difficult for her or any appeal officer to have overturned that decision. With a new baseline discipline of a six-game suspension without pay, adjusted for aggravating or mitigating factors, there should no longer be any question that the league is addressing these types of misconduct with the seriousness they deserve.
Third, we have engaged as advisors individuals with specialized experience in both specific offenses and the prosecution of those offenses. This will allow the Commissioner a better opportunity to evaluate and weigh evidence developed by investigators; to give appropriate but not undue deference to decisions by local police and prosecutors; (also the undue pressure placed on local police by local clubs) and to ensure that the process of discipline is both fair to players and other employees, and properly balances considerations of rehabilitation, services to victims, and punishment.
Based on these and other steps, we are confident that the issues addressed by Judge Jones will not be part of future disciplinary decisions of the Commissioner. We will of course review the decision in detail to identify any other aspects that can be addressed within the comprehensive revision of the Personal Conduct Policy that is now underway. This revised Policy will include significant elements regarding independent investigations, more precise definition of the standards of conduct expected of everyone in the NFL, ongoing programs of prevention and education, and greater participation of experts in assessing issues surrounding law enforcement, clinical and therapeutic matters, and discipline. This revised policy will be a key subject of discussion at the December 10 league meeting. We look forward to discussing these issues with you then, and would be pleased to respond to any questions in the meantime.
We have issued the following public statements: “We respect Judge Jones’s decision to reinstate Ray Rice from his indefinite suspension for violating the league’s Personal Conduct Policy in an incident of domestic violence. Ray Rice is a free agent and has been eligible to be signed by an NFL team since he was released by the Ravens. Based on Judge Jones’s decision, he will be eligible to play upon signing a new contract. Judge Jones’s ruling underscores the urgency of our work to develop and implement a clear, fair and comprehensive new personal conduct policy. We expect this policy to be completed and announced in the weeks ahead. Our focus is on consistently enforcing an improved policy going forward.”
After former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones overturned the indefinite suspension imposed on former Ravens running back Ray Rice, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash sent a memo to all team presidents and chief executives regarding the decision.
The following paragraph likely will attract the most attention: “No part of Judge Jones’s decision questions the Commissioner’s honesty or integrity, nor his good faith consideration of the issue when he imposed the indefinite suspension on Mr. Rice. Nor is there any suggestion that the Commissioner had seen the video from inside the elevator before it became public, or knew of the contents of the video.”
As to the first sentence, it’s true that Judge Jones did not question the “honesty or integrity” of Commissioner Roger Goodell. She also did not question the “honesty or integrity” of any other witnesses. However, it’s clear that Judge Jones rejected the testimony of Goodell and two other league office executives, Adolpho Birch and Kevin Manara. They all claimed that Rice had explained in June that he merely “slapped” Janay Palmer Rice, and that after being slapped she fell and “knocked herself out.” Judge Jones determined that Rice never said that.
Regardless of whether Judge Jones questioned in her own mind the “honesty or integrity” of the witnesses supporting the NFL’s position that Rice had provided the league a “starkly different sequence of events” than the elevator video demonstrates, Judge Jones found Goodell, Birch, and Manara to be not credible. Otherwise, she would have accepted their explanation as truthful and accurate, and she would have agreed with the conclusion that Rice provided a “starkly different sequence of events.”
Most judges aren’t in the business of directly questioning the “honesty or integrity” of witnesses. Instead, they drop hints and offer clues. In this case, a fairly strong clue could be lurking in plain sight at page 7 of her 17-page ruling.
Wrote Judge Jones: “As soon as he arrived at the office [on the day the elevator video was published], the Commissioner assembled all those who worked on the issue to a meeting, at which they looked back at the notes of the June 16 meeting, and ‘made sure all of us had the same recollection.’”
In 2012, Goodell suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for a full year in part because Goodell concluded that Payton “encourage[d] the false denials [of a bounty program] by instructing assistants to ‘make sure our ducks are in a row.’” Getting “ducks in a row” is the same thing as making sure witnesses “had the same recollection.” When the witnesses emerged from that meeting with the exact same recollection and when a former federal judge later rejected that shared recollection as not credible, it’s possible that the judge was indirectly making the same point Goodell made in reference to Payton.
As to the second sentence from the Pash memo, it’s accurate that Judge Jones did not suggest that “the Commissioner had seen the video from inside the elevator before it became public.” However, Judge Jones’ ruling easily can be interpreted as a determination that the league office (and thus the Commissioner) “knew the contents of the video” without seeing it or needing to see it. Rice told them what happened. The video showed what happened. Rice’s explanation was consistent with the contents of the video, which means that anyone who heard Rice’s explanation “knew the contents of the video.”
Pash’s memo also overlooks perhaps the most important conclusion reached by Judge Jones, as it relates to the NFL’s handling of the Rice case. She determined that Rice had the video, and that the NFL never bothered to ask Rice for it. While that finding says nothing about anyone’s honesty or integrity, its speaks to a degree of negligence that borders on recklessness. The team presidents and chief executives could find that to be as troubling as a determination that questioned the honesty and integrity of one or more league employees.