The investigation into the National Football League's management of the Ray Rice video scandal began on Thursday. The NFL has said it will be independent and objective, but critics are questioning the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as investigator, and are calling for the league's commissioner, Roger Goodell, to resign.
“How independent will Robert Mueller be?” NBC Sports’ Mike Florio wrote in a Thursday blog post.
After working with the FBI for 12 years, Mueller is now a partner in the law firm of WilmerHale, which has close ties to the league. As ESPN reported, the firm previously represented Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, and many of its former members have gone on to work for NFL teams. Richard Cass worked at Wilmer from 1972 to 2003 and became a partner there before he was chairman of the Baltimore Ravens, Rice’s former team. Another partner, David Donovan, served six years as general counsel and chief operating officer of the Washington Redskins. Tom Ward, a corporate practice partner at the firm, represented the NFL in a recent deal with DirecTV, according to LegalTimes.
John Mara, owner of the New York Giants, and Art Rooney II, who owns the Pittsburgh Steelers, will be overseeing the investigation, according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.
“Our sole motive here is to get the truth and then share Mr. Mueller’s findings with the public,” Mara and Rooney said in a joint statement Thursday.
But critics aren’t optimistic.
The president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Terry O’Neill, called Mueller’s appointment “just window dressing,” in a Wednesday statement.
“NOW continues to ask for Roger Goodell to resign, and for his successor to appoint an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the entire NFL community -- not just regarding the Ray Rice incident -- and to recommend real and lasting reforms,” it says.
The news comes after the release of a video that shows Rice, who has since been suspended indefinitely from the NFL, punching his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in the elevator of the Revel in Atlantic City.
At the time, NFL officials denied having knowledge of the footage, and told reporters that “no one in our office has seen it until today.” But on Sept. 10, a law enforcement official told the Associated Press that they had, in fact, received a copy on April 9, drawing even more attention to the case.
“We agreed that the scope of the investigation should be aimed at getting answers to specific questions, including what efforts were made by league staff to obtain the video of what took place inside the elevator,” Mara and Rooney said in their statement, adding that they hoped to determine “whether, in fact, the video was ever delivered to someone at the league office, and if so, what happened to the video after it was delivered.”
Before the news of the April video release was revealed, an NFL executive told ESPN that he didn’t expect the issue to cost commissioner Goodell his job -- unless Goodell had seen it earlier.
“If Goodell and the league saw the video beforehand, he is not the commissioner in March for the league meetings,” the NFL executive said.
As the scandal continues, many are speculating about possible replacements for Goodell. A growing group has has suggested former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has had expressed interest in taking over the league since 2002, when Paul Tagliabue had the post.
"Tagliabue is long gone and his successor Roger Goodell has made a mess of it," Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart wrote on Sept. 8. "Time for the former secretary of state with an intense love of the game to step in and save the NFL."
"I think Condi would succeed in any job she had, as she did when she was National Security Adviser, Secretary of State, Provost of Stanford, etc.," former George W. Bush deputy chief of staff Karl Rove said to Buzzfeed News. "If it's a job she wants, with her encyclopedic knowledge of the sport and passion for the game, I have no doubt she'd be great."