WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of Congress from both parties on Wednesday questioned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's handling of a domestic violence incident involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
Goodell has insisted the league didn't see the violent images until this week. After The Associated Press reported that a law enforcement official said he had sent a video of Rice punching his then-fiancee to an NFL executive five months ago, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said news reports suggested a "burgeoning, insurmountable credibility gap" regarding statements by Goodell.
"If these reports are true, Commissioner Goodell must go, for the good of the NFL and its fans," Blumenthal said in a statement Wednesday night. "The current leadership of the NFL cannot be trusted to fairly, genuinely implement policies that address domestic violence."
NFL officials, asked about the AP report that a 12-second voicemail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirmed that the video had arrived, repeated their assertion that no league official had seen the video before Monday.
Earlier Wednesday, 12 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee sent Goodell a letter calling for greater transparency from the NFL. Separately, Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada said Goodell had not acted swiftly enough to punish Rice.
"I fear the failure of the NFL to understand the scope and severity of this act of domestic violence has already led to significant damage for vulnerable members of society," Heller said, adding that he was "highly disappointed" that Goodell and the NFL did not take severe action against Rice until after a security video of Rice punching his then-fiancee on a casino elevator was made public.
"By waiting to act until it was made public you effectively condoned the action of the perpetrator himself," Heller wrote in a letter to Goodell. "I cannot and will not tolerate that position by anybody, let alone the National Football League."
The letters by Heller and the House Democrats both state that the NFL's prominence gives the league a special obligation to forcefully address issues of domestic violence.
"Given the important role the NFL and the other major professional sports leagues can play in shaping public perceptions concerning domestic violence, it would appear to be in the public interest to have the highest level of transparency associated with reviews of potential misconduct," said the letter, signed by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and 11 other Democrats. Conyers is the senior Democrat on the Judiciary panel.
The letter notes Goodell's statements in media interviews that league officials did not see the elevator video until Monday. The Ravens released Rice on Monday and the NFL suspended him indefinitely after the website TMZ released video of the incident. Goodell initially had suspended Rice for two games.
The Democratic letter said Goodell and the NFL have not stated how aggressively the league sought to obtain the video and how law enforcement agencies responded.
Goodell told CBS on Tuesday that "no one in the NFL, to my knowledge" had seen a new video of what happened on the elevator until it was posted online. "We assumed that there was a video. We asked for video. But we were never granted that opportunity," Goodell said.
Two videos, one released by TMZ Sports and another shown later to The Associated Press by a law enforcement official, show Rice punching fiancee Janay Palmer — who is now his wife — and knocking her unconscious. The videos show more detail than an initial video released by TMZ in July that showed Rice dragging Palmer from an elevator.
Goodell has previously said he "didn't get it right" with Rice and the league set up new penalties for domestic violence: a six-game suspension for a first offense, at least a year for a second.
"We welcome your recent willingness to change the NFL's policies regarding issues of domestic violence," the Democratic lawmakers said in their letter, "and we also believe other major professional sports leagues should consider making their policies public and reviews transparent as well."
Besides Conyers, lawmakers signing the letter were Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries of New York; Luis Gutierrez of Illinois; Zoe Lofgren, Judy Chu and Karen Bass of California; Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas; Cedric Richmond of Louisiana; Hank Johnson of Georgia; Steve Cohen of Tennessee; and Suzan DelBene of Washington state.