By Eric Kelsey
(Reuters) - The owner of the National Football League's Baltimore Ravens apologized on Monday for not demanding the graphic video of former star running back Ray Rice striking his then-fiance, saying it "never crossed my mind" and he was "deeply sorry."
Stephen Bisciotti offered the mea culpa at a news conference the team called to address an ESPN report that alleged the Ravens had advocated for lenient punishment for Rice and knew about the contents of the video early on.
"There is no excuse for me to have not demanded that video except I wasn't concerned or interested enough to demand it, never crossed my mind," said Bisciotti, 54, after the team issued a 15-point rebuttal to the story.
"I'm sorry for that, deeply sorry for that."
America's most popular sports league has been engulfed in a crisis for its bungled handling of Rice's case and a spate of domestic violence cases involving players, creating a scandal that has led some of its biggest sponsors to criticize the NFL publicly.
At issue is how the league initially suspended Rice for two games for punching now-wife Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino elevator, but reversed course when a video was later released showing the punch that knocked out Palmer.
"If it would have crossed my mind, I would have demanded it (the video)," Bisciotti said. "If I had demanded it, I would've gotten it. ... I would have forwarded it to the NFL."
Rice, a star player and fan favorite, was cut by the team and suspended indefinitely by the league after the video was released. He is appealing the suspension.
Bisciotti said he had prepared for a four-to-six game suspension when the NFL first suspended Rice in July.
The league's uneven response has raised questions about the credibility and integrity of the NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, one of the most powerful figures in sports.
RAVENS QUESTION MOTIVE
The NFL and the Ravens said they never saw the video until it was posted by celebrity website TMZ two weeks ago and that Rice had misrepresented to them the assault on Palmer.
Bisciotti described the ESPN story as Rice "building a case for reinstatement."
"It's clear from the subject matter, it's Ray's attorney, it's Ray's agent and it's Ray's friends," Bisciotti said.
The article presents the case that the Ravens knew of the content of the video soon after the assault happened in February and did not request a copy of it from Rice's attorney.
Bisciotti also denied the allegation in the story that he promised a future job to Rice in exchange for Rice's silence over the handling of his domestic violence case.
Rice's agent, Todd France, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
A co-author of the ESPN story, Pulitzer Prize winner Don Van Natta Jr., responded to Bisciotti on the network, saying: "I believe our sources."
(Editing by Mary Milliken, Doina Chiacu and Peter Cooney)