Roger Goodell Appeared To Play Dumb On The Ray Rice Elevator Video -- And It Backfired

In a letter to Ray Rice on September 12, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said he was suspending Rice indefinitely because the TMZ video of Rice knocking his wife unconscious was inconsistent with how he described the fight at his meeting with the league in June.

“This video shows a starkly different sequence of events from what you and your representatives stated when we met on June 16,” Goodell wrote.

He doubled down on that justification in an interview with CBS News, saying that Rice’s statements at the June meeting were “ambiguous about what actually happened.”

Goodell was basically pleading ignorance, and the general impression he communicated to the world was, we didn’t know what really happened inside the elevator until now.

On Friday, arbitrator and former federal judge Barbara S. Jones ruled that Goodell and the NFL did know what really happened inside the elevator. Rice told the league the truth at his June meeting, Jones found. She wrote that Rice had told Goodell he had hit his wife, knocking her unconscious after she fell into a handrail, and his account was neither sugarcoated nor “starkly different” than what we all saw when TMZ released video from inside the elevator.

“I do not doubt that viewing the video in September evoked horror in Commissioner Goodell as it did with the public,” Jones concluded. “But this does not change the fact that Rice did not lie or mislead the NFL at the June 16 meeting.”

In her 17-page ruling, Jones calls what Rice told the NFL in June “an accurate description of the assault.”

According to Jones, the NFL argued that Rice misled them because he used the word “slapped” instead of “hit” at the meeting and also “tried to minimize the force of his blow by claiming she knocked herself out by falling into the elevator handrail.”

Here’s how Jones describes Goodell’s testimony about what Rice told him in June: “He recalled what Rice had said this way: that he and his wife got on the elevator and Mrs. Rice ‘struck him, he said that he slapped her, and that she fell, hit her head, and knocked herself out.'”

The distinction between whether Rice said “slapped” vs. “hit” is an important one. If the NFL could prove he said “slapped” at the meeting, they could argue that Rice misled them by downplaying the seriousness of the fight.

But Jones concludes that Rice said “hit.”

From the ruling:

However, an analysis of the testimony together with the notes made contemporaneously by Commissioner Goodell, Birch, Manara, and McPhee leads me to conclude that Rice told the League that he “hit” his wife and that he did not say that she “knocked herself out.” The Commissioner’s notes are not detailed and do not contain any verbatim quotes of what Rice said happened in the elevator. They do not contain the word “slap” anywhere. They do contain the word “struck” at what appears to be the only entry relating to Rice’s statements about what happened in the elevator.

The only person in the room taking verbatim notes was NFLPA lawyer Heather McPhee, who wrote that Rice used the phrase, “And then I hit her.”

Rice also demonstrated how he hit her (“making it clear that his arm ‘came across’ his body and hit her”) in the meeting with the NFL, according to Jones.

Janay Rice, who was present at the June meeting, testified that her husband told the truth. She also told the Today Show on Monday that there was nothing “ambiguous” about Rice’s representation of the incident, as Goodell had previously claimed.

Whether he was unintentionally misremembering the meeting or blatantly lying in the wake of the TMZ video, Goodell was told what happened in the elevator in June. When suspended Rice indefinitely, he wasn’t acting on any new information.

Jones has reinstated Rice, and the NFL released a statement saying it respects the decision.

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