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The NFL can't 'get it right' without Roger Goodell's testimony in the Ray Rice appeal

It will be impossible for the league to "get its house in order" unless Roger Goodell testifies in the Ray Rice appeal next month.

Update: Goodell will indeed be forced to testify, here is why that is so important.


The NFL knows it dropped the ball in its handling of the Ray Rice situation, from the moment it announced the initial two-game suspension this summer to the disastrous first week of the season when the second part of the video surfaced showing Rice punching his then-fiancee in the Atlantic City hotel elevator. Since then, the league's made some prominent hires, launched an "independent" investigation, initiated a review and revamp of its domestic violence and personal conduct policies, and other bureaucratic auto-responses. Most telling of all is that the league slashed commissioner Rodger Goodell's public appearances, even for the occasional Play60 event.

Goodell made his last high-profile public appearance at the owners meeting in New York. A sweatier, more vulnerable looking commissioner handed out a standard list of practiced answers for 20 minutes, the best of his three sessions with the press since Rice was suspended indefinitely. The world will soon learn whether Goodell has to make the most important appearance outside the friendly confines of the league's Park Avenue offices this week when Judge Barbara Jones decides whether Goodell will testify at Rice's appeal on Nov. 5 and 6.

League sources confirmed that the NFL has reportedly offered to make Adolpho Birch, senior VP of labor policy, and Jeff Pash, NFL general counsel, available for the appeal. Goodell has so far declined to testify.

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The basis of Rice's appeal hinges on the notion of double jeopardy. Rice's two-game suspension was bumped up to an indefinite one after TMZ released the second video on Sept. 8. The NFL justified the move by citing the video as new evidence in the case.

Goodell said in his interview with CBS on Sept. 10 that Rice was "ambiguous" in what he told the commissioner at his discipline hearing over the summer. Goodell has maintained that position throughout. He called Rice's account "inconsistent" during his ill-fated Sept. 19 press conference.

"I made a mistake," the commissioner said in a barrage of talking points blasted at the press that day. Goodell hands out player discipline under the current personal conduct policy, his signature achievement in public relations window dressing. He gave Rice the two-game suspension in this case, and bumped it up in September.

Reports suggest the NFL saw the entire video of the incident, but it doesn't matter, in this case, if league officials did or not. Rice maintains that he told Goodell and the Ravens everything that happened.

You don't have to be a lawyer to understand why Goodell's testimony is essential to the Rice appeal. No matter what you think of Rice and what kind of punishment he deserves for his disgusting act of violence, he is entitled to due process.

Over and over again we've heard Goodell promise "transparency" along with the need to "get our house in order." His testimony would settle once and for all the question of what he knew about the Rice incident and how it was handled. Putting the commissioner -- along with the Ravens' brass and everyone else mixed up in this -- under oath in the hearing would also have more credibility than the Robert Mueller investigation, given Mueller's ties to the league and oversight by two team owners.

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Since the furor around Rice subsided, the NFL has been talking up its effort to forge a new personal conduct policy, one that could even remove Goodell from the discipline process. It's long overdue. The current process lacks any transparency. It doesn't seem to have much regard for due process either. We learned that much when Paul Tagliabue was tabbed to put an official face on the league's Bountygate screwup, unwinding wrongful player suspensions handed out by Goodell.

The NFL's promise to "get it right" hinges on a credible new personal conduct policy, not to mention saving face for its handling of the Rice suspension in the first place. Shunting Goodell away and preventing his testimony in front of Judge Jones would undercut that, leaving the new policy and the league itself on shaky ground as it tries to move on from a disaster of its own making.