By Ed Payne and Steve Almasy
(CNN – Sept. 11, 2014) — Nothing less than the NFL’s reputation is on the line, and possibly the job of the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell.
A bombshell video shows Ray Rice knocking out his now-wife on a casino elevator. Another shows him dragging her off.
What we don’t know for certain is what the NFL knew about the incident and when the league knew it.
There are conflicting stories. Critics want answers. Some want Goodell’s head.
The NFL announced late Wednesday that former FBI Director Robert Mueller will lead an independent inquiry into the league’s investigation and how it gathered evidence in the case.
Mueller will have access to all NFL records, according to league spokesman Greg Aiello. Two NFL owners who are attorneys — John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers — will oversee the independent probe.
Mueller was director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013.
Appointment not enough
If the league was looking to stem the tide of criticism, it didn’t work.
The National Organization for Women called Mueller’s appointment “just window dressing,” saying it doesn’t go far enough.
“NOW continues to ask for Roger Goodell to resign, and for his successor to appoint an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the entire NFL community – not just regarding the Ray Rice incident – and to recommend real and lasting reforms,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.
“The NFL does not just have a Ray Rice problem, they have a violence against women problem.”
Rice, who was released Monday by the Baltimore Ravens, and his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, got into an altercation on an elevator in the casino in Atlantic City on February 15. Rice knocked her out with a punch to the head then dragged her — face down — out of the elevator.
TMZ Sports obtained two videos from the footage taken from surveillance cameras that night. It posted the first one, which showed Rice dragging his then-fiancee out of the elevator, in February. The in-elevator video showing the violent punch was put online Monday.
Ravens owner looks back
It was that second video that changed Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti’s perception of the incident.
Bisciotti, who told CNN affiliate WBAL that he never spoke with Rice, said he didn’t realize the blow that knocked Janay Rice out was so forceful.
“The way it was described to us was that he had hit her with an open hand and that she had hit her head (as she fell),” Bisciotti told WBAL.
He told the station that the way he pictured it in his mind Janay Rice was “wailing” on her then-fiance when he slapped her and she was close to the wall and hit her head, knocking her out.
“So why did I conclude all of that? Because I wanted to, because I loved him, because he had a stellar record,” Bisciotti said. He added his thinking was also shaped by the fact that police only arrested the couple for misdemeanors.
Ray Rice’s charge was later changed to a felony, and Janay’s charge was dropped.
NFL and the video
The NFL on Wednesday said it is looking into an Associated Press report that a league executive in April received from a law enforcement official a copy of the video in which Ray Rice punched his now-wife in the face.
The law enforcement official had a short voice mail from April 9 in which someone calling from a number at an NFL office thanks the official, the AP reported. The caller says of the video, “You’re right. It’s terrible,” according to the AP.
The league has denied that anyone in its office had seen the video before Monday, when it was posted online.
The AP story said the law enforcement official requested anonymity because of an ongoing investigation and didn’t name the NFL executive because that would make it easy to identify the AP’s source.
The source told AP he sent the video on a DVD to an NFL office.
“The person said he was unauthorized to release the video but shared it unsolicited, because he wanted the NFL to have it before deciding on Rice’s punishment,” the AP wrote.
‘This is a huge problem’
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told CBS in an interview aired Wednesday that the league asked for the video on several occasions, but was denied access.
“I understand that there may be legal restrictions on them sharing that with us,” he said.
CNN’s Rachel Nichols said the AP report, if true, is extremely damaging to the NFL’s and Goodell’s reputation.
“This is a huge problem, and not just for the public,” she said. “Roger Goodell is either flat-out lying about having seen the video, or he is admitting to gross, gross negligence that this was in his office and he didn’t see the video.”
In a memo to NFL owners, the commissioner reiterated that position, saying the NFL asked for the videos in February and in May. New Jersey law prohibits their release while a police investigation is under way, Goodell wrote in the memo.
The league didn’t ask a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for the video, Goodell said.
‘It was sickening’
Rice was suspended indefinitely by the league and is in a pretrial intervention program in the New Jersey legal system that will allow him to avoid jail time.
Initially he had been suspended for two games of the 16-game season, a decision by Goodell that was widely criticized. Many commentators have argued the first video TMZ Sports posted was evidence enough for a harsher penalty.
But there was a complaint summons that NFL investigators should have had access to as well.
The Baltimore Sun posted part of the document back in February. The complaint says Rice was charged with assault by attempting to cause bodily harm, “specifically by striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious.”
Goodell told CBS that he was sickened by what he saw on the newly released video and that it was the first time he had seen the full scope of the February incident.
He also deflected criticism of his handling of Rice’s case and his initial lenient penalty for the domestic violence incident.
“What we saw in the first videotape was troubling to us in and of itself,” Goodell said, referring to another video that surfaced in February after the incident, showing Rice dragging his then-fiancee out of the elevator. “But what we saw yesterday was extremely clear. It was extremely graphic and it was sickening.”
CNN’s Wayne Sterling, Drew Iden, Joshua Gaynor, Mariano Castillo, Jill Martin and Jennifer Bernstein contributed to this report.