The NFL announced late on Wednesday that former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III will lead an investigation into how the league handled the Ray Rice case and evidence associated with the probe.
However, the investigation has several potential conflicts of interest that has left many wondering just how independent the investigation will be.
To start, the investigation by Mueller will be overseen by New York Giants owner John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney.
While those are two of the most powerful owners in the NFL, they are also closely aligned with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell who has come under heavy fire for his handling of the Rice investigation.
Good part of Mueller appointment: greatly respected.Bad part: two owners overseeing, John Mara and Rooney, are close to Goodell.
— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) September 11, 2014
Earlier on Wednesday (before the AP report came out), Mara staunchly defended Goodell, saying that his job was not in jeopardy.
There are also close ties between the NFL and WilmerHale, the law firm where Mueller now works.
According to ESPN, WilmerHale has previously represented the NFL during negotiations with DirecTV over the NFL’s “Sunday Ticket” television package. The most recent deal between the two sides was worth $US4 billion.
In addition, at least three former lawyers at WilmerHale now work for the NFL according to Darren Rovell of ESPN. These include Jay Bauman, who Rovell describes as “the #2 lawyer at the NFL,” Cleveland Browns president Alec Scheiner, and Baltimore Ravens president Richard Cass. The latter was a partner with the firm for 31 years.
This does not mean the investigation won’t be thorough and professional. But as Rovell points out, the connections should be disclosed and transparent so that the results can be trusted by the public and the league’s fans.
Choice of WilmerHale isn’t curious because of connections. Will get these hits on big law firms. But connections should be disclosed.
— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) September 11, 2014
The core of the investigation will be determining what Goodell and the NFL knew and whether any evidence was concealed when the league decided to originally suspend Rice for just two games.
After Mara came out in support of Goodell, an AP report claimed that three months ago an executive in the NFL office had received a copy of the video showing Rice punching his then-fiance in a casino elevator. This came after Goodell had adamantly denied that anybody in his office had seen the tape before it was leaked by TMZ earlier this week.
One unnamed owner told Mike Freeman of BleacherReport.com that he believes and trusts Goodell and the league. But that owner also made it clear that the report better not be true.
“If this report is true, this is very bad for our league, and for Roger,” the owner told Freeman. “No owner will support him if this is true. Not one.”
We have reached out to the NFL for comment.
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