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It's Looking Even Worse for Roger Goodell

This isn't just about the Ray Rice incident anymore

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

What didn’t Roger Goodell know and when didn’t he know it?

That’s the question people will be asking again today, thanks to some new reporting from the Associated Press. The A.P. story, written by Rob Maaddi, quotes a local law enforcement official who says he sent the now-infamous Ray Rice videotape to an NFL executive five months ago. Yes, the official remains anonymous. But he also provided the A.P. with corroborating evidence: A twelve-second voicemail from NFL headquarters, confirming receipt of the video. “You’re right,” the voice on the message reportedly says, “it’s terrible.”

Terrible indeed. NFL officials have said they had never seen the video, which shows Rice striking Janay Palmer in a hotel elevator, before it aired at TMZ Monday. Now it appears that a copy made its way to NFL headquarters after all. If that is the case, what happened next? Why didn’t the video make it to the commissioner’s office? Even league officials don’t seem so sure anymore. “We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday,” league spokesman Greg Aiello told USA Today late Wednesday, adding “We will look into it.”

By now, you may have heard people suggest that Goodell is either dishonest or incompetent. I’m betting it’s the latter. Goodell can’t be stupid enough to lie so blatantly, so publicly, about having seen the video. But incompetence in this case hardly excuses Goodell’s behavior, or the league’s. When the NFL wants to get information or make a point about player conduct, it does. Look at the effort it made to investigate, and then punish, members of the Miami Dolphins who were bullying a teammate last year. Or look at how the league reacted following reports, in 2010, that coaches of the New Orleans Saints were offering players bounties for knocking out opponents. During that scandal, Goodell famously said, “Ignorance is no excuse.” If the league failed to perform the same due diligence in the case of Ray Rice, that’s a reflection of how seriously it takes—or doesn’t take—domestic violence.

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, has called upon Goodell to resign. As my colleague Danny Vinik explained on Wednesday, this wasn’t just because of how Goodell handled the Rice incident. It was because of how Goodell handled the incidents before it:

NOW reports that during Goodell’s tenure as commissioner, there have been 56 instances of domestic violence. In response to those incidents, the NFL has suspended players for 13 games combined. Only 10 players were released from their teams. Carolina Panthers' player Greg Hardy, for instance, was convicted in July of choking his former girlfriend. Hardy had four tackles and a sack in Week 1 of the NFL season.

Goodell did the right thing in late August, when he admitted he’d made a mistake with Rice’s initially lenient punishment—and announced new, serious NFL policies for combatting domestic violence. This week he did the right thing again when he announced that the NFL was suspending Rice indefinitely. And late Wednesday night, the NFL announced that it was asking Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, to conduct a formal inquiry into why the NFL did such a lousy job of investigating the Rice episode in the first place. But there’s more the league could do.

NOW, for example, wants a much wider-ranging inquiry—specifically, “an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the entire NFL community." That seems like an awfully good idea, whatever finally happens with Goodell.

Jonathan Cohn

News from Wednesday

FERGUSON: Police arrested 35 demonstrators who were trying to stop traffic on a St. Louis interstate. The New York Times reports that local activists are increasingly focusing their attention on the prosecutor in the case, Robert McCulloch. They want him step aside or be replaced, because they don’t believe he’s interested in pursuing a serious case against Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has interviewed two more eyewitnesses, both of them from other communities, whose account corroborates that of neighbors who said Brown was unarmed and trying to surrender. CNN on Wednesday aired cell phone video, presumably of the same two witnesses, in which one of them holds up his hands to demonstrate what Brown was doing when he got shot.

PAID SICK LEAVE California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will guarantee paid sick days to nearly all workers. California becomes the second state to have such a law on the books; Connecticut was the first. A last-second amendment exempting home health care workers led some unions to oppose the measure as too weak. (Los Angeles Times) Jonathan Cohn wrote about the virtues of California’s bill, and the importance of paid sick leave, in late August. (QED)

COAL COUNTRY POLITICS: Murray Energy, a coal mining company known for coercing employees to donate to the GOP, is still at it. If employees don't want to lose their jobs, they'll donate to CEO Bob Murray's candidates of choice, alleges a new lawsuit. (Ken Ward Jr, Charleston Gazette) 

Articles worth reading:

How Hillary made fracking everyone's problem: As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton had a strong environmental legacy. Mariah Blake has evidence that show Clinton pushing fracking, and all of its related problems, on to the rest of the world. (Mother Jones)

More lists, more white dudes: Annie Lowrey wants to know why those arbitrary media lists of innovators and disruptors are always dominated by white men. (New York)

The “pay less, get more” era of health care: Sarah Kliff has a great overview of how the health economy is changing for the better, with Obamacare part of the story. (Vox)

Stories we’ll be watching:

The NFL? Ferguson? Or maybe the Congressional Republicans, who might be having trouble moving the continuing resolution—the measure that will fund the government starting October 1—through the legislative process.


Rebecca Leber takes a look at the GOP’s best shot at undermining President Obama’s plan to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants. Jonathan reports on the latest news on health care: Premiums for employer-sponsored insurance next year are barely rising. Yes, it’s another Obamacare catastrophe that’s not happening.