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Ravens pushed for leniency on Rice despite knowing about both videos, report says

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell broke his extended silence Friday about his handling of recent domestic violence issues, reiterating that he erred with his decisions involving former Ravens' running back Ray Rice and acknowledging that he let himself and the public down.

"I got it wrong in the handling of the Ray Rice matter, and I'm sorry for that," Goodell said in a tense 45-minute news conference in New York. "But now I will get it right and do whatever is necessary to accomplish that."

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His comments preceded a new report saying that Ravens executives were aware of the severity of Rice's altercation with then-fiancee Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator but still conducted a months-long campaign for leniency from the judicial system and from Goodell. The initial two-game suspension of the running back was cited by many critics as evidence that the league wasn't taking domestic violence seriously enough.

The ESPN report, citing several anonymous sources, said that Ravens coach John Harbaugh wanted Rice cut shortly after the incident. He asked again in March for the release of Rice and some other Ravens' players who were arrested in the offseason, according to the report. However, ESPN said, he was rebuffed by owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome, who have stood by several troubled players in the past. Harbaugh could not be reached for comment Friday, but the Ravens told ESPN that Harbaugh did not ask for Rice to be released until he saw the second video on Sept. 8.

The fallout from both the NFL and the Ravens' handling of the incident, along with several other legal issues involving players, has dominated headlines in recent weeks, causing some to call for Goodell's job and other high-profile sponsors to contemplate — or end altogether — their relationship with the NFL.

Women's groups on Friday continued to question Goodell even as he announced a new initiative with the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and a major sponsor — Procter & Gamble's Crest — pulled out of an NFL campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer. Other sponsors indicated they were watching developments. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has the military looking into its relationship with the NFL, according to a CNN report.

Eventually released on gossip website TMZ on Sept. 8, the video showed Rice punching Palmer and knocking her unconscious, the stunning images quickly leading to Rice's release by the Ravens and his indefinite suspension by the NFL.

The ESPN report also alleged that Ravens' officials were made aware of exactly what happened during Rice's assault on his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in the elevator of an Atlantic City, N.J. casino in February.

The Atlantic City police report says Rice "committed assault by attempting to cause bodily injury" to the 26-year-old Palmer, "specifically by striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious, at the Revel Casino."

Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne said the organization will address the ESPN report next week.

"The ESPN.com Outside the Lines article contains numerous errors, inaccuracies, false assumptions, and perhaps misunderstandings," the team said in a statement Friday. "The Ravens will address all of these next week in Baltimore after our trip to Cleveland for Sunday's game against the Browns."

Bisciotti was out of the country and unavailable for comment.

Several high-ranking Ravens' officials declined comment or did not return calls from The Sun.

ESPN said that group included team president Dick Cass, who reportedly pushed to get Rice accepted into New Jersey's pretrial intervention program, in part because it would keep the elevator video from becoming public; and general manager Ozzie Newsome.

The report alleges that Bisciotti, Cass and Newsome lobbied Goodell, who is friendly with the Ravens' owner, for a lighter suspension of Rice, emphasizing the progress that he had made since the incident and how much he had done for the community.

Despite the report saying Harbaugh wanted Rice released, the coach has been one of Rice's most vocal supporters, absorbing much criticism from the public for his characterization of Rice as a "heck of a guy."

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Ravens director of team security Darren Sanders also declined to comment. The report says Sanders was told by an Atlantic City law enforcement official exactly what happened on the elevator just hours after Rice and Palmer were arrested.

The story didn't say who, if anybody, Sanders told about the contents of the video, but it did allege that Rice's attorney, Michael J. Diamondstein, obtained the video in early April and reportedly told Cass the video, if released, would be a public relations disaster for the team and his client.

In an interview with The Sun two days after the running back's contract was terminated, the Ravens' top decision makers acknowledged that the organization failed in its handling of the Rice situation. Bisciotti's biggest regret was that the team didn't push harder to get a copy of the video that came out on Sept. 8.

Cass, who detailed various efforts to get the tape, said earlier this month that what was on the video "looks very different than what we understood the facts to be."

The NFL Players' Association is appealing Rice's indefinite suspension. The NFL has also asked former FBI director Robert Mueller to conduct an investigation on how it handled the Rice situation.

"I'm not satisfied with how we handled it from the get-go," Goodell said Friday. "I made a mistake."

Though at least one report has indicated otherwise, Goodell said that he doesn't believe anyone in his office had seen the elevator footage before it came out on Sept. 8.

"I would have loved to see the tape," the commissioner said Friday.

While he said the Mueller investigation prevents him from providing details of the case, Goodell did acknowledge a couple of his shortcomings, including allowing Palmer to be in attendance when he met with Rice on June 16 to review the running back's arrest. A little over a month later, he handed out his widely criticized two-game ban.

"It's part of the learning we've had throughout this is that there are certain proper ways of having those kinds of discussions when couples are going through domestic violence issues," Goodell said. "We have learned that. We have learned that from our experts, that we shouldn't have them in the same room."

During his news conference, Goodell also announced his plans to form a player conduct committee, similar to the league's competition committee, that will enforce a new set of "clear and transparent rules" he said would be formulated by the league, players association, and outside experts.

Goodell's news conference was not received well by some women's groups.

In a statement Friday, Terry O'Neill of the National Organization for Women, said the group "continues to demand that he [Goodell] resign." The National Network to End Domestic Violence said that while it appreciated the NFL's new funding, it urged Goodell to deliver on his pledge to "get it right."

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Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of Ultraviolet, which flew banners last week at some NFL stadiums saying "#GoodellMustGo," called on NFL's sponsors to "withdraw their support until Goodell is out of office."

While Procter & Gamble's Crest did that this week, other major sponsors said they are following developments closely. Hunt Valley-based Cover Girl, a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble, was dragged into the controversy earlier this week when an altered image of one of its ads was displayed and sent on social media. The company responded: "In light of recent events, we have encouraged the NFL to take swift action on their path forward to address the issue of domestic violence."

Baltimore Sun reporters Aaron Wilson and Jon Meoli contributed to this article

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