NEW YORK — The NFL on Wednesday said it is looking into an Associated Press report that a league executive received in April a copy of the video from a law enforcement official in which Ray Rice punched his now-wife in the face.
The law enforcement official had a short voice mail from April 9 in which someone calling from a number at an NFL office thanks the official, the AP reported. The caller says of the video, “You’re right. It’s terrible,” according to the AP.
The league has denied that anyone in its office had seen the video before Monday, when it was posted online. When asked about the AP report, an NFL spokesman said the league will investigate the validity of the story.
“We have no knowledge of this. We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it,” Brian McCarthy said.
The AP story said the law enforcement official requested anonymity because of an ongoing investigation and didn’t name the NFL executive because that would make it easy to identify the AP’s source.
The source told AP he sent the video on a DVD to an NFL office.
“The person said he was unauthorized to release the video but shared it unsolicited, because he wanted the NFL to have it before deciding on Rice’s punishment,” the AP wrote.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told CBS in an interview aired Wednesday that the league asked for the video on several occasions, but was denied access.
“I understand that there may be legal restrictions on them sharing that with us,” he said.
CNN’s Rachel Nichols said the AP report, if true, is extremely damaging to the NFL’s and Goodell’s reputation.
“This is a huge problem, and not just for the public,” she said. “We now have NFL players coming out against this because Roger Goodell is either flat-out lying about having seen the video, or he is admitting to gross, gross negligence that this was in his office and he didn’t see the video.”
Late Thursday, the NFL announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller will lead an independent inquiry into the league’s investigation and gathering of evidence in the case.
Goodell said Mueller will have access to all NFL records, spokesman Greg Aiello said. Two NFL owners who are attorneys — John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers — will oversee the independent probe.
Mueller was director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013.
NFL says it tried to get footage
In a memo to NFL owners, the commissioner reiterated that position, saying the NFL asked for the videos in February and in May. New Jersey law prohibits their release while a police investigation is under way, Goodell wrote in the memo.
The league didn’t ask a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for the video, Goodell said.
On February 15, Rice, released Monday by the Baltimore Ravens, and his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, got into an altercation on an elevator in the casino in Atlantic City. Rice floored Palmer with a punch to the head then dragged her — face down — out of the elevator. The incident was captured on casino surveillance cameras.
TMZ Sports obtained two videos from the footage taken that night. It posted the first one, which showed Rice dragging his then-fiancee out of the elevator, in February. The in-elevator video showing the violent punch was put online on Monday.
‘We dropped the ball,’ Ravens owner says
It was that second video that changed Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti’s perception of the incident.
Bisciotti, who told CNN affiliate WBAL that he never spoke with Rice, said he didn’t realize the blow that knocked Janay Rice out was so forceful.
“The way it was described to us was that he had hit her with an open hand and that she had hit her head (as she fell),” Bisciotti told WBAL.
He told the station that the way he pictured it in his mind Janay Rice was “wailing” on her then-fiance when he slapped her and she was close to the wall and hit her head, knocking her out.
“So why did I conclude all of that? Because I wanted to, because I loved him, because he had a stellar record,” Bisciotti said. He added his thinking was also shaped by the fact that police only arrested the couple for misdemeanors.
Ray Rice’s charge was later changed to a felony, and Janay’s charge was dropped.
Goodell sickened by Monday’s video
Rice was suspended indefinitely by the league and is in a pretrial intervention program in the New Jersey legal system that will allow him to avoid jail time.
Initially he had been suspended for two games of the 16-game season, a decision by Goodell that was widely criticized. Many commentators have argued the first video TMZ Sports posted was evidence enough for a harsher penalty.
And NFL investigators should have had access to the complaint summons from the case. The Baltimore Sun posted part of the document February 19. The complaint says Ray Rice was charged with assault by attempting to cause bodily harm, “specifically by striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious.”
Goodell told CBS that he was sickened by what he saw on the newly released video and that it was the first time he had seen the full scope of the February incident.
He also deflected criticism of his handling of Rice’s case and his initial lenient penalty for the domestic violence incident.
“What we saw in the first videotape was troubling to us in and of itself,” Goodell said, referring to another video that surfaced in February after the incident, showing Rice dragging his then-fiancee out of the elevator. “But what we saw yesterday was extremely clear. It was extremely graphic and it was sickening.”
Goodell’s handling — or mishandling, as his critics say — of the Rice domestic violence incident has led to calls for his firing, too.
“The NFL has lost its way. It doesn’t have a Ray Rice problem, it has a violence against women problem,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.
“The NFL sets the example for college, high school, middle school and even elementary school football programs. And the example it is setting right now is simply unacceptable. New leadership must come in with a specific charge to transform the culture of violence against women that pervades the NFL.”