There's new, vivid evidence of the now-infamous domestic violence incident involving Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. And unlike an older security video that became public months ago, this one doesn't just show the aftermath. It appears to show Rice actually striking Janay Palmer, who was then his fiancé, while the two were in an elevator at an Atlantic City Hotel.
Did NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have access to the video when he decided to suspend Rice for just two games? It's not clear. TMZ media, which published the video, quotes an anonymous hotel employee who says the league had the footage in its possession. Previous reports suggested the same thing. But on Monday the NFL denied that: “We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator," a spokesman said. "That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today,” the league said in its statement."
Either way, the video is a reminder that Goodell's initial decision was weak, as the commissioner himself has since acknowledged. It's also a reminder of what domestic violence really looks like. And maybe that's important.
The hotel incident occurred in February, when a security camera caught Rice dragging Palmer out of the elevator, apparently unconscious. Rice was eventually indicted for assault, pled not guilty, and avoided a trial by agreeing to enter a counseling program for first-time offenders. He also apologized publicly to his teammates, to his fans, and to Palmer, whom he had subsequently married.
The new video is from a camera inside the elevator and it appears to show Rice decking Palmer with a left punch to the head. Palmer then falls, her head knocking against the elevator railing, and collapses. Soon the elevator opens and Rice begins dragging her out, in the now-familiar scene (but from a different angle) that the previously aired video showed. TMZ notes that its producers “cleaned” and “smoothed” the video to make it less “jerky.” That’s one reason most people writing about it now (including me) are using words like “appears” in describing what the video shows. But the video is consistent with the account Palmer had initially given police—that Rice knocked her unconscious.
Goodell's initial judgment would seem even more objectionable if he actually saw the video beforehand, as much of the reporting suggests. At the time, the commissioner defended the decision on a number of grounds—among them, the fact that Rice had never been found guilty of anything. Notwithstanding the public apology, Rice had never said publicly what happened in the elevator. “I take into account all of the information before I make a decision on what the discipline will be," Goodell said. "In this case, there was no discipline by the criminal justice system.”
When Goodell subsequently admitted that he had made a mistake, he did so in a letter to NFL owners that also introduced a set of new policies on domestic violence—including more training for players, more public advocacy on the issue, and much harsher penalties for player misconduct. Now the punishment for a first-time domestic violence incident is a six-week suspension and the punishment for a second incident is a lifetime ban, although players will be able to apply for reinstatement.
That’s one good thing to come out of this incident. The other may be the reaction the video, already in wide circulation, is likely to prompt. The footage is not easy to watch, but it shouldn’t be. Domestic violence is violent. Maybe if more people realize that, more people will take it seriously.
Update: I originally wrote that Palmer has said she hit Rice during the incident, as early police reports indicated. But, looking back over the clips, it's not clear she ever said anything like that—not that it should make a diffrence anyway.