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NFL punishes Ray Rice as video emerges but league may face trouble

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The wife of former Ravens running back Ray Rice has come to his defense after he was released by the team and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

The grainy images, captured without sound, show a man and a woman in an elevator.

He turns toward her, then walks away. She comes at him, and he punches her on the side of the head, knocking her off her feet and into a railing. When the doors open he drags her limp body behind him.

Ray Rice, who threw the punch, was a star running back with the Baltimore Ravens. The woman was Janay Palmer, at the time Rice’s fiancee, now his wife.

Within hours of the video’s release by TMZ Sports, Rice’s career as a professional football player was in jeopardy. His contract was terminated by the Ravens and the NFL announced he was suspended indefinitely.

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But the league and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, may be in trouble too.

The surveillance video released Monday is the second look at that altercation. The first, which surfaced six months ago, shows Rice pulling Palmer out of a casino elevator. It led to Rice’s being charged with third-degree assault, a felony; Palmer with simple assault, a misdemeanor. Rice agreed to enter a diversionary program, allowing him to avoid trial.

In July, the NFL suspended Rice for two games, which drew widespread criticism as too lenient.

Now, with the release of the latest video, the league is facing more troubling questions: Either its initial investigation failed to turn up the second, more graphic video; or its leaders were not being truthful Monday when they said they were seeing that footage for the first time.

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Neither possibility reflects well on the NFL or Goodell, long regarded as a law-and-order boss. Imposing a strict personal-conduct policy was among the first things he did after being hired.

In a statement, the NFL said it had “requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator. That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today.”

In a news conference late Monday, Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said he didn’t know when the NFL saw the second video.

When a reporter voiced skepticism about why Ravens officials hadn’t seen it earlier, Harbaugh said: “I don’t know why that would be a hard thing to understand. It wasn’t made available. It wasn’t there for us. It wasn’t something we ever saw, ever had access to.”

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TMZ founder Harvey Levin disputed Harbaugh’s and the NFL’s statements. “It’s a shameful story that the NFL knew that the surveillance video existed. … And they didn’t do anything,” Levin told a Washington, D.C., television station.

Domestic violence experts applauded the decisions to release and indefinitely suspend Rice, punishments that many people believe should have taken place months ago.

“I am hopeful that because this is now being taken seriously by the people in charge of pro football that this is now going to translate into having accountability and consequences,” said Patti Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence, a Los Angeles-based sexual assault, domestic violence and youth violence prevention center.

Rice, 27, is not the only NFL player who has been linked to domestic violence allegations this year. San Francisco defensive tackle Ray McDonald, who played for the 49ers in Dallas on Sunday, was arrested on Labor Day weekend on suspicion of domestic abuse against his pregnant fiancee. Defensive end Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers was convicted in July by a district judge in North Carolina of assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Hardy exercised his right to a jury trial, likely to take place after the season.

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In August, Goodell had defended the NFL’s actions leading to Rice’s two-game suspension. “We’ve dealt with it in a serious manner, and we’re very confident that this young man understands where he is and what he needs to do going forward,” the commissioner said at the time. “I think what’s important here is Ray has taken responsibility for this. … He recognizes he made a horrible mistake that is unacceptable by his standards, by our standards.”

Later, after Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for the season for testing positive for marijuana, the chorus of criticism grew louder with people pointing to the disparity in punishment.

Goodell last month told team owners in a letter that he had made a mistake in not doling out a harsher punishment to Rice and significantly ramped up penalties for domestic violence.

“I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values,” Goodell wrote. “I didn’t get it right.”

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NFL players, typically reluctant to comment about the off-field transgressions of other players, were strident Monday in their criticism of Rice.

Denver defensive tackle Terrance Knighton tweeted: “That man should be thrown out of the nfl and thrown into jail. Shame on those deciding his punishment. Smh”

Retired quarterback Sage Rosenfels tweeted: “I wonder how many games the suspension would have been if that was Roger Goodell’s daughter lying there?”


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