STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The first weekend of the NFL regular season wrapped up yesterday. There were two Monday night games, but the news was not really about football. Running back Ray Rice was a bigger story and will continue to be perhaps for some time. The Baltimore Ravens cut Rice from the team yesterday morning, and the NFL followed up by suspending him indefinitely, all after TMZ released a video of Rice punching and knocking out his former fiancee in an elevator. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is covering this story. Hi, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hello, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK. So many people have seen this video - an astounding sequence of events - and after its release Baltimore Head Coach John Harbaugh talked to reporters. What did he say?
GOLDMAN: He talked about the decision to release Ray Rice, and he said he has nothing but hope and goodwill for Ray and Janay Palmer - that's the woman in a videotape - who has since become Ray Rice's wife. Harbaugh talked about the significance of the video. He said, quote, "it changed things of course."
Now remember, Steve, this was a second videotape that had been made public. The first one showed Ray Rice dragging Janay Palmer unconscious out of an elevator at an Atlantic City casino. Rice ended up pleading not guilty to aggravated assault, and he entered a pretrial intervention program that allowed him to avoid jail time. And the NFL of course punished Rice - not enough many said - two-game suspension.
Now Harbaugh said Monday was the first time he and the Ravens saw the video of what happened inside the elevator. The NFL said the same thing. We got an email yesterday from a league spokesman, Greg Aiello, and he wrote, quote, "we requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator. That video was not made available to us, and no one in our office has seen it until today."
INSKEEP: OK. That's what they said. The video, as John Harbaugh says, certainly does change your perspective on things. You actually see Rice throw the punch. He hits her so hard, she slams against the side of the elevator. You get a fuller view of the sequence of events, but is it really clear that the NFL and relevant officials had not seen that second videotape until very recently.
GOLDMAN: It's not clear, and reports are circulating that both did see it earlier, that the NFL and the Ravens viewed the tape earlier and even thought it was justification for the light punishment - the two-game suspension - because Janay Palmer comes toward Ray in the elevator, and they could argue that he was fending her off. Well, fending off is one thing, a left hook is another.
INSKEEP: Now, what is the significance if the NFL did know about the tape earlier than they say?
GOLDMAN: Well, it would show they were horrified and moved to stronger action only when the tape was released publicly, and it created a huge uproar, instead of reacting to the tape when they first saw it. But, you know, there are those who say the difference in the two tapes shouldn't be that significant. The first one should have been damning enough - the way Rice dragged Janay Palmer from the elevator in an almost casual way, at one point pushing her legs together using his foot. You know, there's no alarm in his actions, no indication of, oh, my God, what have I done?
INSKEEP: OK. So the NFL did impose a stronger punishment, this indefinite suspension, but how does that fit with this new policy the league has recently announced toward domestic violence?
GOLDMAN: Well, it doesn't really. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the new policy with a six-game suspension for a first offense, a lifetime ban for a second. His announcement included an admission that he blew the initial response to the Rice case. But now some are wondering, where does this indefinite suspension fit with the new policy? So a lot appears muddled right now.
There's a lot of criticism of Goodell. Some are calling for him to be removed as commissioner. From one corner, one significant corner, there is a belief that good things can actually come out of this.
I spoke last night to Kim Gandy. She's the president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. She's one of several domestic violence experts who Goodell consulted in recent weeks. And she says Goodell was genuinely interested in finding out about the issue. He asked good questions, and he seems sincere in talking about how the NFL wants to help in a big way after mucking things up with the Ray Rice case. Now the question is, will the NFL take that learning and commit to helping on a long-term basis?
INSKEEP: So is the league taking other cases seriously as far as you can tell?
GOLDMAN: Well, you know, we shall see. Ray McDonald, a defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers, he was arrested for domestic violence a few days after Roger Goodell announced the new policy. We will be watching to see what, if anything, the NFL does in the McDonald case. So far nothing because Goodell is watching to see how the legal process plays out first.
INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.