Jenkins: NFL commissioner’s actions in Rice case too little and way too late

Sally Jenkins

About Roger Goodell’s raised consciousness. About the NFL commissioner’s seemingly unbidden turnabout on the subject of domestic violence, his uncharacteristic admission that he “didn’t get it right” when he suspended ex-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice only two games for socking his fiancé unconscious, while throwing the book at marijuana tokers. About the curious timing of Goodell’s much-congratulated epiphany, and the Ravens’ sudden moral outrage, and the appearance of that stomach-heave inducing elevator video on TMZ, in which Rice decks his bride so hard she drops like a piece of lost luggage from an airplane bay.

The Ravens promptly terminated Rice’s contract on Monday and Goodell, ever in pursuit of a stainless suit-coat, reopened the case and suspended Rice indefinitely under his revised policy on domestic assault, given this graphic “new” evidence. But really, what did Goodell and the Ravens think a professional football player knocking his wife unconscious looked like?

That Goodell is an unduly vain commissioner, and a self-serving one with his eye on some further prize, has always been obvious. That he obfuscates and evades on tough issues unless they are convenient for him, that his convictions are highly selective and so is his enforcement, has never been more apparent. On Monday morning, with the surfacing of that video, Goodell’s nature became totally clear.

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The NFL claims in a statement that no one in the league office had seen the video before. That is almost surely not the truth, unless the NFL wanted it that way. This is a league that works with Homeland Security, confers with the Drug Enforcement Agency, collaborates with law enforcement and has its own highly equipped and secretive private security arm. You’re telling me it couldn’t get ahold of a grainy video from an Atlantic City casino elevator? But TMZ could?

If NFL executives and Baltimore Ravens staff had never seen that video before, there are only two reasons: willful blindness, and the determination to maintain plausible deniability. Two NFL analysts with reputations for impeccable sources, Peter King of Sports Illustrated and Chris Mortenson of ESPN, were told months ago the league had to have seen the video. Ray Rice’s own attorney had a copy of it. It simply defies belief that league and team officials couldn’t have seen it if they wanted to.

All the video does is put the full lie to the specious reasons the NFL and the Ravens offered for being lenient on Rice – he was defending himself, there were extenuating circumstances, he felt terrible about the incident. And of course, the woman partly had it coming. “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident,” the Ravens tweeted.

All of it is belied by the video. The young woman is clearly having a dispute with her fiancé. They argue, he snaps at her, she swats a hand at him. They get on the elevator, they argue more, she says something and moves toward him – and he drops her, bam. And then stands over her for a moment, and lugs her out of the elevator like he’s hauling a sack of cement.

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Did Goodell and so many others in the NFL really need to see the video before they were properly horrified? It’s impossible to reread the letter Goodell sent to NFL team owners describing his change of heart on domestic violence on Aug. 28 with anything but a rueful, bitter hilarity. “The reality is that domestic violence and sexual assault are often hidden crimes, ones that are under-reported and under-acknowledged,” Goodell wrote. You bet they are, especially if the video is buried.

Goodell went on: “My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families.”

On Monday, Goodell’s audience found itself in the position of questioning the sincerity of his apology for behaving in a way that led to his sincerity being questioned. For years now, NFL players have questioned his sincerity on issues like concussions, player safety, discipline and drug testing. With the Rice scandal, the full football viewing public will likely now view Goodell through the same skeptical lens.

Fort Worth native Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. Contact her at