The Ravens' black eye

The Muller report makes clear the Ravens should have acted sooner on Ray Rice.

Ravens fans will no doubt smell conspiracy in the release of former FBI director Robert Mueller's report on the NFL's investigation of the Ray Rice domestic violence case just two days before the team takes on the New England Patriots for the chance to play in the AFC title game. The league doesn't want the Ravens in the playoffs, the thinking will go, and it timed this report to tilt the scales on Saturday in Foxborough. After everything we've seen this season about the way the league has handled the aftermath of Mr. Rice's assault on his then-fiancée, now wife, Janay, we wouldn't be at all surprised if there was some truth to that, claims of the Mueller investigation's independence notwithstanding.

We also don't care. There are more important things at stake here than the outcome of a football game, and all those who have invested so much of their emotional energy (not to mention hard-earned money) into devotion to this sport and this team deserve to know the truth. Even if Mr. Mueller concluded that no one at the NFL had seen the video of Mr. Rice punching out his fiancée in an elevator of the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, his report makes clear that neither the league nor the team took the matter as seriously as they claimed to have until the website TMZ released the video and the ensuing public outcry made them scramble to cover their backsides.

Mr. Mueller and his team of investigators conducted scores of interviews with NFL personnel and engaged in forensic analysis of league computers and telephones to determine whether someone there had seen the video before its September release by TMZ, as alleged in an Associated Press account. They found no evidence to substantiate that claim.

But what they did discover that should be of particular interest to Ravens fans is that the team "did receive in late February a detailed description of the in-elevator video from a lieutenant at [the Atlantic City Police Department], the agency responsible for the criminal investigation of the Rice incident." The report adds that the Ravens did not share that information with the league but would have done so if asked.

That stands at odds with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti's initial explanation of the team's handling of the matter, in which he said the team's understanding at the end of February was that "A player who had been a model citizen in the community and terrific teammate for six seasons had been charged with simple assault against his fiancé [sic]. At that time, his fiancé Janay had been similarly charged." Mr. Bisciotti's story changed in a subsequent letter of explanation after an ESPN article challenged the Ravens with engaging in a pattern of "misinformation and misdirection." In that response, Darren Sanders, the team's head of security who currently faces a fourth-degree sex offense charge for allegedly groping and forcing himself on a female M&T Bank Stadium worker, characterizes the Atlantic City officer's description of the elevator video as having been ambiguous.

But Mr. Mueller saw the information the Ravens had at that time as having been a red flag that should have caused the league to take the matter more seriously. He does not say so, as the conduct of the Ravens was not in his purview, but the same surely goes for the team, whose officials were publicly backing Mr. Rice right up to the moment they fired him.

All of the avenues of investigation Mr. Mueller faults the NFL for failing to pursue were also available to the team — for example requesting that Mr. Rice and his attorney hand over a copy of the video, which they had obtained through the discovery process in the New Jersey courts. For what it's worth, Mr. Rice and his attorney told Mr. Mueller that they would have complied if they had been asked. But they weren't.

Best case scenario: The team put blinders on because it didn't want to do anything to disrupt Mr. Rice's ability to get back onto the field. Worst case scenario: They understood exactly what had happened even without having watched the video but were gambling that the public would never see the incriminating information. Given Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome's testimony as part of Mr. Rice's successful effort to overturn his indefinite suspension by the NFL that Mr. Rice told him and league commissioner Roger Goodell that he had hit Ms. Rice, it sounds more like the latter.

Is it fair to all the Ravens players and fans who had nothing to do with this incident or its investigation — and may well have been disgusted by both — to have it dredged up right before the biggest game of the year? Probably not. But all season we have had to cope with the fact that real life has intruded on our entertainment. Why should now be any different?

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