Even as Barack Obama all but declares war on militants in Iraq, the biggest story in America is the scandal enveloping the National Football League. But for sports fans, this story has been lengthy and complicated, with new information nullifying what we thought we knew. Here, for the still uninitiated, is the story that could undermine our country's biggest sport.
The scandal has two major players: Ray Rice, a star Baltimore Ravens running back before he was cut this week, and Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner who is widely viewed as one of the most powerful executives in sports.
What did Ray Rice do?
On Feb. 15, Ray Rice punched his then-fiancée Janay Palmer (who is now his wife Janay Rice) in an elevator in Atlantic City, knocking her unconscious. Both were arrested on charges of simple assault—the police report stated that the two "struck each other with their hands"—and released that day.
Four days later TMZ posted a video that put the encounter in much starker terms than those used by police. The clip, which was taken from security camera footage in a casino hallway, showed Rice dragging his unconscious wife out of an elevator. Though it was known that video from inside the elevator also existed, only surveillance footage from the hallway outside leaked at the time.
Was Rice Charged with a crime?
A month later, Rice was indicted on a charge of aggravated assault, a step up from the initial charge of simple assault. Rice pleaded not guilty to that charge, and though he faced between three and five years in prison, he was allowed to enter a "pre-trial intervention program for first time offenders" that requires him only to go to family counseling for a year.
Here is what the case's prosecutor said about Rice at the time of the plea:
"After considering all relevant information in light of applicable law it was determined this was the appropriate disposition," acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said in a statement.
What was the NFL's response?
In July, the NFL announced that it was suspending Rice for a total of two games. The reaction was swift and negative, with a whole host of people noting the incongruity of the NFL suspending multiple players for entire seasons for smoking pot but then only docking Rice a couple of games for punching his wife.
Rice's team, the Ravens, went along with that punishment. In May the team held an immediately regrettable press conference with Rice and his wife, in which the victim said she "deeply regrets the role she played in the incident."
So why is the controversy flaring up again now?
The NFL didn't necessarily get itself in trouble for what it did do—suspending Rice for two games—as much as for what it didn't do, though this wasn't apparent until this week.
The Ravens quickly reacted to the renewed furor over the case by releasing Rice, who was still serving his league-mandated suspension. The NFL followed that up by extending Rice's suspension indefinitely. But the new video raised a question that the NFL had previously been able to sweep under the rug: Did the NFL see the elevator video, and if so, how did they only suspend Rice for two games?
The answer to that question may be the final undoing of Goodell, who is one of the most powerful executives in sports and among the richest. Though reports from some of the sport's most respected journalists said that the NFL had viewed the elevator video, the league announced after it leaked that it had not actually seen the footage. As Deadspin's Barry Petchesky noted afterward, the NFL attempted to prove it was not evil by instead saying that it was incompetent.
But an AP report from yesterday afternoon throws that explanation into question. According to the report, a New Jersey police officer says that he sent the elevator video to the NFL in April, and that someone—he would't say who—in the office acknowledged receiving it. The NFL released a statement after the AP published its story saying that the league was "not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday." Though that explanation is certainly plausible, it further makes it apparent that the NFL completely bungled its investigation into the assault.
Where do things stand now?
Ray Rice is out of the NFL and presumably won't be allowed back in for a while (if ever). The central figure in this case now is Goodell, who very well could lose his job. Goodell, as commissioner of the league, is technically employed by the NFL's 32 owners, who would have to fire him if he chooses not to resign. That Goodell would be fired seemed out of the question as recently as a few days ago, but now it seems far more possible, though still unlikely. Goodell, for his part, reportedly would refuse to step down (which isn't surprising considering he made $35 million in compensation last year).
Meanwhile, week 2 of the 2014 season kicks off tonight on CBS. The Pittsburgh Steelers are playing the Baltimore Ravens.
[image via Getty]