(Reuters) - The NFL said on Wednesday it was unaware of any of its officials obtaining a video five months ago showing former player Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancee in an elevator, but it will “look into” a report that it received the clip in April.
A law enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press he had sent the video of the February incident to a league official in April because he wanted the NFL to have it before deciding how to punish Rice.
The NFL has steadfastly insisted it had not seen the video until it went viral on Monday.
“We have no knowledge of this. We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday,” Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the National Football League, told Reuters. Even so, “we will look into it.”
The NFL suspended Rice indefinitely after the release of the video, taken inside an elevator in a New Jersey casino, saying the clip showed the violence of the incident. Rice’s team, the Baltimore Ravens, also cut the three-time Pro Bowler.
Weeks earlier NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice for just two games, based on another video taken from a camera outside the elevator that showed him dragging an unconscious Janay Palmer, who he later married.
Critics of the league’s handling of the incident contend that Goodell was too lenient in his initial punishment. Since the release of the new video, questions have surfaced over why the NFL was not able to obtain the clip before TMZ, the website that first aired it on Monday.
“If Goodell did see the video, which he says he didn’t, then he should be fired,” Washington Post columnist John Feinstein told Reuters. “If he didn’t see the video, then he probably should be fired too - because he should have seen the video.
“He’s guilty and everybody working around him is guilty for giving him terrible advice,” Feinstein said.
Goodell serves at the behest of the NFL team owners, and there is no sign that they have lost confidence in his leadership. At least two, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and John Mara of the New York Giants, have voiced support for Goodell since Monday.
In a “CBS This Morning” interview that aired earlier on Wednesday, Goodell said he did not believe his job was on the line over his handling of the case, which has rekindled a national discussion over domestic abuse.
But Goodell, who has a reputation for being tough on players who break the rules, has conceded he didn’t get it right by suspending Rice for just two games, and he later spelled out tougher policies for players involved in domestic abuse.
He said “people expect a lot from the NFL” and that he was still learning about domestic abuse.
“We accept that,” Goodell said of the league’s responsibility. “We embrace that. That’s our opportunity to make a difference, not just in the NFL but in society in general.”
The 55-year-old Goodell, who has been the NFL commissioner since 2006, has said he tried and failed to obtain the video from inside the elevator.
“On multiple occasions we asked for it,” Goodell said. “And on multiple occasions we were told ‘no.’ I understand that there may be legal restrictions on them sharing that with us.”
When told many people do not believe that, Goodell said, “It’s a fact.”
Rice, 27, was indicted by a grand jury in March on third-degree aggravated assault but the charge was dropped because Palmer declined to testify against him. He ultimately agreed to court-supervised counseling as part of a pre-trial intervention program.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Beech