- - Thursday, September 11, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“What did he know, and when did he know it?” This famous question from the Watergate hearings apparently isn’t just for asking politicians any more.

Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, got the question to explain the inadequate and clumsy handling of the domestic-violence case against Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back.

It’s a question that Robert S. Mueller III will try to get a good answer to. The league announced Wednesday that the former FBI director had been hired to conduct an independent investigation with “the full cooperation of NFL personnel and access to all NFL records.” Mr. Mueller is well regarded, having served as the top G-man for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

That’s not good enough for some. Even before Mr. Mueller has called a witness or asked a question, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a Democrat, and the National Organization for Women demand Mr. Goodell’s head. This is the same NOW that once advanced the hoax that Super Bowl Sunday was “the biggest day of the year for violence against women.”

Though the thug problem in big-time sports is well-known, NFL officials say Mr. Goodell won’t resign, and so far the team owners are standing behind him.

The “what and when” question centers on video footage from an elevator in an Atlantic City casino showing Mr. Rice knocking out Janay Palmer, then his fiancee and now his wife, and dragging her unconscious out of the elevator. It’s brutal, stomach-turning stuff.

After initial footage surfaced, showing only what happened after the punch, the league suspended the running back for two games, which many thought was ludicrously insufficient punishment. The release of the rest of the video, including the left cross that knocked Ms. Palmer out cold, was put up by the website TMZ. The Ravens sacked Ray Rice at once, tearing up his multimillion-dollar contract. Nearly everyone said good riddance.

Mr. Goodell and other NFL officials continue to insist they hadn’t seen the full video before Monday, despite claims by an unidentified law enforcement officer who told the Associated Press he had sent the video to an NFL executive as early as last April. He produced a voicemail message he received from a woman at the NFL’s offices acknowledging receipt of the video. “You’re right,” she said. “It’s terrible.”

Mr. Goodell and other league officials will have to answer this question: Even if they did initially see only the early footage showing Mr. Rice pulling a prone Ms. Palmer off the elevator, wouldn’t it raise questions of what preceded it? Were they not sufficiently curious to investigate the matter then? If she had merely fainted, there would be no reason to punish Mr. Rice at all, with no debate about whether a two-game suspension was sufficient.

“When we met with Ray Rice and his representatives,” Mr. Goodell, then in damage-control mode, told CBS News on Wednesday, “it was ambiguous about what actually happened.”

The interviewer, Norah O’Donnell, asked what was “ambiguous” about it. “That was the result that we saw,” the commissioner replied. “We did not know what led up to that.”

Mr. Goodell and the NFL, along with the rest of us, now know “what led up to that,” and as a consequence, Ray Rice is rightly out of the game.

The dozen attention-seeking Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who now seek to insert themselves into the controversy by seeking information about the NFL’s attempts to watch the elevator video should know this is not a federal concern. They should butt out and let Mr. Mueller do his job.

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