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Commentary: NFL has perception problem with Robert Mueller running Ray Rice probe

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller will investigate the NFL's handling of the Ray Rice domestic abuse case.
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller will investigate the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic abuse case.
(Matt York / Associated Press)

The NFL is scooping out buckets of water like crazy, trying to bail out its boat as the Ray Rice scandal continues to unfold.

But the league has to be careful not to punch another hole in the hull.

Bringing on former FBI Director Robert Mueller to conduct what the league calls an independent investigation into the handling of the Rice case is problematic. Mueller is qualified, without question, but the conflict-of-interest optics are bad.

As ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio points out, Mueller works for the law firm, WilmerHale, that recently helped the NFL negotiate a multibillion-dollar deal with DirecTV. ESPN points out that the firm previously represented Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, and it’s the former firm of Dick Cass, president of the Baltimore Ravens, Rice’s former team.

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What’s more, the NFL owners assigned to oversee the investigation, Pittsburgh’s Art Rooney and the New York Giants’ John Mara, while both widely respected in the league, are both close to Goodell. In fact, it was Rooney’s father, Dan, who informed Goodell that he would be replacing Paul Tagliabue as commissioner. It’s not about whether Rooney or Mara would do a good job. It’s about optics, and the perception of the public that the NFL is indeed fairly and squarely under the microscope.

Something else: It took the NFL only a few hours to line up Mueller for this job, among the most experienced and recognizable enforcement officials in the country, someone who ran the FBI under two presidents.

And yet the league couldn’t get a copy of that elevator video from the Atlantic City police?


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