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NFL stands ground on Rice, despite report it received video

Two days after a graphic video surfaced showing star running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell continued to scramble to get ahead of the brewing controversy about whether he had seen the video before suspending the player for two games.

Late Wednesday night, Goodell said that he asked former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to conduct an independent investigation into the league’s “pursuit and handling of evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence incident.”

John Mara, the co-owner of the New York Giants, and Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are both lawyers, will oversee the investigation, the final results of which will be made public. Goodell said Mueller, who was director of the FBI for 12 years, will have access to all NFL records.

Mueller’s report, though, is unlikely to quell the immediate calls by women’s advocacy groups for Goodell to resign. Earlier Wednesday, he sent a letter to team owners and presidents reiterating that the league had not seen video of what transpired in an elevator between Rice and Janay Palmer, now his wife, until it was made public by the website TMZ on Monday.

Yet The Associated Press reported Wednesday that a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, sent the footage to an NFL executive months ago, before Goodell suspended Rice.

“We have no knowledge of this,” Greg Aiello, an NFL spokesman, said in a statement. “We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it.”

In July, Goodell disciplined Rice, who played for the Baltimore Ravens, with a two-game suspension for being accused of assaulting his fiancée, a penalty that was widely criticized as too lenient. In a rare mea culpa in August, Goodell acknowledged that he had mishandled the Rice case and announced that he would toughen the league’s policy on domestic violence.

“Our longstanding policy in matters like this — where there is a criminal investigation being directed by law enforcement and prosecutors — is to cooperate with law enforcement and take no action to interfere with the criminal justice system,” Goodell wrote in the letter.

He added: “As always, we will continuously examine our procedures. I believe that we took a significant step forward with the enhanced policies on domestic violence and sexual assault that were announced last month.”

But as he tried to explain his reasoning, Goodell also had to fend off calls for him to step down from the most prominent and lucrative job in sports.

“The NFL has lost its way,” said Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women. “It doesn’t have a Ray Rice problem; it has a violence against women problem.”

—Ken Belson, The New York Times