Protect the shield? Or cover his butt?

A law enforcement official says he sent a video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee to an NFL employee five months ago, while league executives have insisted they didn't see the violent images until they were published this week.

A law enforcement official says he sent a video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee to an NFL employee five months ago, while league executives have insisted they didn't see the violent images until they were published this week. The person played The Associated Press a 12-second voicemail from an NFL office number confirming the video arrived on April 9. A female voice expresses thanks for providing the video and says: "You're right. It's terrible." Goodell sent a memo on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, to the 32 teams reiterating that the NFL never saw the video until Monday, Sept. 8.

Roger Goodell likes to boast about "protecting the shield." For all the high-minded talk, let's see how good he is at covering his butt.

Sooner or later, the commissioner will have to explain how he missed a DVD copy of the inside-the-elevator video that The Associated Press reported had arrived at the NFL league offices five months ago. While he's at it, maybe Goodell can also tell the truth about why he went easy on Ray Rice the first time. After all, like the rest of us, he didn't need to see actual footage of the vicious punch Rice threw to figure out how Janay Palmer, then his fiancee and now his wife, wound up unconscious on the floor in the first video.

But when he was asked that question in an interview aired Tuesday on "CBS This Morning" Goodell effectively doubled down on his "see-no-evil" — "or at least not enough of it" — defense to explain why he initially suspended Rice for just two games.

"When we met with Ray Rice and his representatives, it was ambiguous about what actually happened," Goodell replied.

"But what was ambiguous," came the sharp follow-up, "about her laying unconscious on the floor, being dragged out by her feet?"

"There was nothing ambiguous about that," Goodell said, adding that they didn't know the details and couldn't get the elevator video.

In most instances, the NFL's security arm compiles dossiers so thorough they rival the work being done at the Department of Homeland Security. And the league promised yet another one, walking back it's "We will look into it" response to the AP story and announcing late Wednesday that former FBI director Robert Mueller will head an investigation into how the evidence in the Rice case was handled.

No word yet on when it will be completed, but we're certain of this much already: There's no way Goodell watched the video of the punch before Monday. He's too smart to lie about that.

The real questions are why he didn't get his hands on the video, or learn the details of what went on inside the elevator, most of which was described accurately in a police report. He was either willfully ignorant or just plain incompetent, and neither bodes well for his future.

And while we're at it, one more thing. League higher-ups knew the AP was asking about a copy of the video being sent to an NFL executive. Yet Goodell went ahead with his appearance on CBS, repeated his tale of plausible deniability and didn't stop there.

"People expect a lot from the NFL. We accept that... We embrace that," he said. "That's our opportunity to make a difference, not just in the NFL, but in society in general."

That kind of arrogance is breathtaking. It's also a recurring theme with Goodell.

He's been great for business, but bad at transparency. He didn't get serious about concussions until improving science and a pack of lawyers forced his hand. He bungled the Saints "Bountygate" fiasco so badly, the league had to turn to Paul Tagliabue, Goodell's predecessor, to bail him out. When the Patriots got caught stealing defensive signals from the Jets in 2007 in what became known as "Spygate," he handed out stiff penalties and then unilaterally ordered the evidence destroyed.

There's too much blood in the water this time, though, for Goodell to get away without a full review of the facts. The owners to whom Mueller will deliver his report — John Mara of the Giants and Art Rooney of the Steelers — are both pals, but they won't be able to do him any favors, either.

At least one congressman and the head of the National Organization for Women have already called for Goodell to step down, but the biggest hit to his chances of hanging on might have been struck by Marriott, one of the league's blue-chip sponsors. The hotel chain said it was "closely following the situation."

"We trust that the NFL will address the matter appropriately," a statement on the hotel chain's Twitter account read.

The folks at Marriott won't be the only ones paying close attention.

Since January 2000, 77 players have been involved in 85 domestic violence incidents with six being cut by their teams, according to USA Today's NFL Arrests Database. Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers has already been convicted on two counts of domestic violence (he's appealing the decision) yet somehow he's still playing this season. Ray McDonald of San Francisco is on the active roster, too, despite being investigated on allegations of abuse.

Goodell has taken plenty of the credit for the quality of the product the NFL puts on the field any given Sunday. Now he's got to answer a few tough questions about how some of it got there.


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.


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