Why is NFL behind TMZ in Rice case?

by | Sep 10, 2014 | Comment, Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

So now we know who’s running the NFL.

It’s TMZ.

Had the celebrity website not released the first video of Ray Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiancée out of an elevator – causing a huge national outcry – who knows what the league might have done or not done?

And if TMZ hadn’t aired a second video this week showing Rice, inside the elevator, actually slugging the poor woman into oblivion, the running back would be preparing to rejoin the Baltimore Ravens in a few days, his two-game suspension having been completed.

Instead, after TMZ’s post, the Ravens quickly cut Rice, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.

You wonder if Roger Goodell doesn’t come to the office each morning and say, “What’s TMZ got today?”

This is a sad state of affairs, if a common one in the age of The Omnipresent Camera. It’s people like Rice who should be surprised when their actions are caught on tape. Not the NFL. Not a league that has the bank account of a small nation, an army of investigators with police and even FBI backgrounds – and, sadly, no shortage of accused lawbreakers.

Yet the NFL insists that nobody in its offices saw that elevator tape before Monday.

Goodell told CBS News, “We assumed that there was a video, we asked for video, we asked for anything that was pertinent, but we were never granted that opportunity.”

Of course, the parties they asked were the police departments and the county prosecutor’s office – neither likely to share evidence during investigation of a possible crime.

Meanwhile, TMZ, expecting nothing from the police, managed to get both videotapes, reportedly from the casino itself.

They act. Then the NFL acts?

That’s not the right order.

NFL looks terrible

At best, the league is admitting that TMZ, a nine-year-old TV show, does a better job of investigating NFL players than the NFL does.

That makes the league look terrible.

At worst, some NFL people saw this tape – and at least made Goodell aware of it – and are lying to cover it up.

Which makes the league look even worse.

Either way, this is a black eye – pardon the expression – on the league and its commissioner. It also questions which tail is wagging the dog.

Honestly, what did the NFL think happened in that elevator? They had video of a woman so knocked out, her lower half is picked up, dropped and picked up again – and she doesn’t stir. Did they think Rice just shoved her a little?

Maybe I missed something, but I don’t recall Janay Palmer saying “I just slipped and fell.” If she or Rice told them a sugarcoated story, it was on the NFL officials to view the video for themselves. However TMZ got it, the league should have gotten it.

Instead, the league only got tough on domestic violence after the first TMZ video aired, and now the NFL is reacting as if shocked – shocked! – that Rice hit the woman hard enough to knock her out.

Why? The NFL is no stranger to this kind of thing.

Linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who plays for the 49ers, was accused of punching a woman in the face. Brandon Marshall, who plays for the Bears, went on trial for a domestic violence charge in which disturbing photos and many calls to 911 were admitted as evidence (he was acquitted).

The website Slate did a study in 2012 that concluded 2% of NFL players had been charged with an intimate violent crime. The league has two players dealing with domestic violence cases right now.

Goodell told CBS News the tapes were “graphic” and “sickening.” They were. But they can’t be shocking. Not to him.

TMZ running the show

So why the fast change in Rice’s suspension? Most likely, once TMZ had the video, Goodell sought to head off as much public criticism as possible. He is, after all, in the branding business. And the public and media have, predictably, gone wild. So much so, that Rice’s wife posted this to Instagram:

“I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare … To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret everyday is a horrible thing. …

“THIS IS OUR LIFE! … If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded …”

For this, she was sympathized, criticized, debated and analyzed by armchair therapists. It is not my place to tell her how to react. But I do understand how she could feel blindsided, having figured the worst was over.

I can’t say the same for the NFL. The league has no claim to being surprised. It’s the NFL’s role to know everything about its players, not what TV shows the league. Sadly, right now, the most powerful league in the world is skipping to the bullets that TMZ fires.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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