Yesterday, Ray Rice was terminated from the Baltimore Ravens and suspended by the NFL after a video of him knocking his then fiancée, now wife, unconscious was obtained and distributed by TMZ. The video shows Rice violently knocking Janay Palmer's head against the elevator wall and into a metal railing.
The incident happened in February, and shortly thereafter, a shorter video showing Rice dragging Palmer away from the elevator surfaced. In March, Rice was charged with felony assault, though Palmer did not testify against him and the couple wed about a month after the abuse occurred. (He made a plea deal and avoided jail time.) In July, the NFL gave Rice a two-game suspension, but yesterday, after the TMZ video circulated, the suspension was extended to "indefinite."
Yesterday, NFL officials repeatedly denied having seen the tape inside the elevator previous to TMZ's distribution, despite previous reports that they knew the video existed and perhaps had seen it. At a press conference yesterday evening, Ravens coach John Harbaugh also stressed to reporters that he did not see the tape before Monday.
However, Sports Illustrated's Peter King was told by a reliable source that NFL officials did have access to the complete video recording before the two-game suspension decision was made. (That's also a slight deviation from a report by King over the summer, which suggested NFL officials had watched the tape.) Having access to the tape does not mean Commissioner Roger Goodell and other officials saw the tape, only that they could have seen it if they had requested to.
TMZ did some digging, and is reporting that the NFL did not request the tape from Revel Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, where the incident occurred. TMZ was able to acquire the tape after Revel was shut down at the end of August, likely from a former employee. (The publication is known for paying top dollar for incriminating celebrity videos obtained by disgruntled employees.) Revel sources say they would have happily given — not sold – the video to the NFL had they asked for it.
Additionally, Revel gave a copy of the video to police investigating Rice. Rice's lawyer also obtained a copy of the video during the criminal lawsuit brought against his client. The league claimed on Monday that they asked police for all information regarding the incident, but were not given the second video.
Though the NFL could not obtain the complete video through police (it was part of an active case and therefore had restricted access) they could have seen the footage courtesy of Rice's attorney or Revel Casino. While Rice and his legal team may have been unwilling to give up the incriminating footage, TMZ believes the NFL "had a lot of leverage in the form of severe penalties if Rice didn't ante up the tape."
While it does seem plausible that the Commissioner or other NFL executives never saw the tape, it also doesn't seem like they bothered to look for it before making the two-game suspension decision.