Embattled NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, after attending a Wake Forest High School football practice on Wednesday, continued to explain his response to the Ray Rice incident even as new questions were raised about the way it was handled by the NFL.
Goodell reiterated Wednesday he had not seen a video of Rice punching his then-fiancee in a casino elevator until Monday, and his original suspension of Rice – which he later admitted was too lenient – was based on Rice’s description of the incident and available video footage which showed Rice dragging the unconscious woman from the elevator.
“The description of what happened was not consistent with what the videotape was,” Goodell said. “When you see it, that was clear. That’s why we took the action we did. That’s why we obviously were very disturbed at the first video, and that was reason for us to take the disciplinary action that we did, albeit not what we would liked to have taken. When we saw the second video, it was clear. It was completely unacceptable. It was graphic, it was violent, and it was something we felt we had to take an immediate reaction to.”
The NFL originally suspended Rice for two games for assaulting Janay Palmer, now his wife, then suspended him indefinitely Monday when TMZ posted the second video.
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Goodell, in town to promote USA Football’s Heads Up Football safety initiative, which has been adopted by all Wake County schools, spoke with the media before the Associated Press reported Wednesday that a New Jersey law-enforcement official had given an NFL executive in April a copy of the second video.
NFL officials told the AP Wednesday they were not aware of anyone in the league having possession of the video before Monday.
According to the New York Times and other news outlets, Goodell sent a letter to team owners and presidents Wednesday reiterating that the league had not seen the elevator video until it was made public by TMZ on Monday.
Also Wednesday, 12 Congressmen from the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Goodell demanding “the highest level of transparency” from the NFL regarding its handling of the Rice incident and other domestic violence cases, while Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, called for Goodell to resign.
“I feel the weight of the public every day,” Goodell said. “I have to go earn my job every day. I have to continue to earn the trust. When you disappoint people, you have to figure out how to make sure you do it right the next time. If feel that weight. I don’t feel it any more than I do any other day.”
As for other pending domestic-violence cases facing the NFL, Goodell said the judicial process would have to run its course in the case of Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who was found guilty in a bench trial of assaulting his girlfriend and now faces a jury trial, and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald, who was arrested 10 days ago.
“It’s very important to make sure we have all the facts and to make sure law enforcement has the opportunity to do what they need to do,” Goodell said. “But then we have to make sure whatever action that we should take at the appropriate time, we’re in position to do.”
Goodell said both players would be held to the new domestic-violence policy the NFL announced two weeks ago in response to criticism of Rice’s original suspension. The new policy mandates a six-game suspension for a first offense and an indefinite suspension of at least one year for a second.
“Part of our program here, there’s so much focus on the discipline, but what we announced two weeks ago was a change in the education, the training, so we can do everything possible to prevent these issues from happening,” Goodell said. “That’s the key for us. Give people the resources to be able to do that.”
Even in the midst of this personal and professional public-relations meltdown, Goodell made his scheduled visit to Wake Forest to commend the school on its diligence in following the Heads Up Football program. Wake County is the first school system in the state to fully adopt the program, and Wake Forest was specifically selected for the visit for its enthusiasm in embracing it.
“I think what we’re seeing is a culture change here, where kids understand that they’re dehydrated, they have to go get a water break,” Goodell said. “That’s part of taking care of yourself. When you have an injury, a head injury in particular, you have to ask, you have to get treatment. It’s OK to raise your hand when you have an injury. What they’re seeing is that culture change.”