Outside The Lines has been rummaging deeper into the underbelly of sports than any other television program since I was in diapers, but nothing compares to the shit the NFL finds itself knee-deep in this month. TMZ Sports slapped the Kingsford charcoal on the grill by releasing the video of Ray Rice thwacking his wife upside the side of her head with a thundering left hand swing, kicking off the Roger Goodell barbeque, but OTL investigative reporters John Barr and Paula Lavigne brought the seasoning.
In a report published Friday evening, the broadcast leg of ESPN's investigative bureau stomped its heavy feet and shook the ground by piecing together a few major components of the complicated Rice scandal together.
There are a litany of damning accusations littered within their report that paints the Ravens front office as an amalgamation of The Wire's most unscrupulous characters. David Simon couldn't have imagined the lengths Steve Bisciotti and the Ravens would go to protect a declining talent not just because he was prominent face in the community,but because he was considered family. In contradiction to the company line which has stated that the Ravens leadership did not have access to the Revel Casino elevator video which captured Ray's Valentines Day assault of his then-fiancé Janay, investigative reporters Natta Jr. and Valkenburg allege that Bisciotti's former bodyguard/current Ravens director of security Darren Sanders relayed exactly what occurred insided the elevator as it was described to him by an Atlantic City police office.
According to OTL's sources, soon after he was hired to defend the Ravens running back, Ray Rice's lawyer Michael J. Diamondstein began discussing a way for Rice's case to be resolved quickly and quietly with Ravens team president Dick Cass. However, TMZ threw a monkey in those plans--twice.
Diamondstein received his marching orders from Rice: "Keep me out of jail, and keep my bosses happy." By midday Wednesday, Feb. 19, the lawyer had worked out a plea deal with a local prosecutor in Atlantic City municipal court: Rice would enter counseling and if there were no other incidents involving him within 90 days, the case would be dismissed. The inside-elevator surveillance video would not be released. But that was the day TMZ released the outside-elevator video.
Before the plea deal could be finalized, the Atlantic County prosecutor, James P. McClain, decided to take the Rice case from the lower, municipal court and present evidence -- all of the surveillance videos -- to a grand jury. Diamondstein was back to square one and would have to seek a deal from a new prosecutor, one who initially seemed in no mood to negotiate.
One month later, the case had become a powder keg, but was still being primed to explode in the NFL's case.
Then, on March 27, an Atlantic County grand jury handed up an indictment against Rice, increasing the charge he faced from simple assault to felony aggravated assault in the third degree, for "attempting to cause significant bodily injury, and/or purposely or knowingly causing such injury, and/or recklessly causing such injury under extreme indifference to the value of human life."
Suddenly, the Ray Rice case had become more serious. He now faced a potential prison sentence of three to five years. And yet, according to public statements made by Bisciotti and other team officials, the team decided at that point to stop seeking to obtain or even view a copy of the inside-elevator video.
Rice's most ardent supporter was Ozzie Newsome. While head coach John Harbaugh tried twice to force the front office to reconsider not cutting ties with Rice, Newsome wouldn't budge.
"Ozzie has always looked out for Ray," said John Minadakis, one of Rice's closest friends, "and Ray has always looked up to Ozzie as a father figure. He didn't want to see Ray crucified for this."
Cass continued to operate as an intermediary between the Ravens organization and Rice's defense lawyer and even saw the video in early April.
By phone, Diamondstein told Cass that the video was "f---ing horrible" and that it was clear "Ray knocked her the f--- out." The lawyer advised Cass that the video, if released, would amount to a public relations disaster for the Ravens and for his client.
Bisciotti has been adamant that Rice wasn't fully forthcoming about what happened in the casino elevator on that fateful night, but if his team president was given access, the willful ignorance he expressed in an interview with WBAL-TV's Channel 11 team now sounds more nefarious. In addition, the Ravens also lobbied for Rice's behalf with the Atlantic County, New Jersey and Goodell. Allegedly, Goodell confessed to regretting the light punishment dispensed to Rice and that a close confidant of Goodell "came away from the conversation with the strong impression Goodell regretted that someone had talked him out of leveling a tougher penalty against Ray Rice."
As if there wasn't enough of a reason to doubt how independent former FBI director Robert Mueller's investigation of the entire Rice saga would be, the report also delves into Goodell's coziness with certain owners such as John Mara or Art Rooney II and the favoritism he shows towards owners he reveres.
The most direct evidence against the Ravens is a text message, Rice received from Bisciotti after the team succumbed to public opinion on the day TMZ released the interior elevator tape.
Minutes later, Rice's phone buzzed. He could scarcely believe what he was looking at-- back-to-back text messages from Bisciotti. Rice read them aloud so everyone in the room could hear them:
Hey Ray, just want to let you know, we loved you as a player, it was great having you here. Hopefully all these things are going to die down. I wish the best for you and Janay.
When you're done with football, I'd like you to know you have a job waiting for you with the Ravens helping young guys getting acclimated to the league.
The pressure on the Ravens is only just beginning to mount and if this NFL bloodletting continues, there may not be any familiar faces around to offer a post-NFL job to Ray Rice.