Report: Ravens knew of Rice tape, asked for leniency; team responds

The Ray Rice scandal has taken yet another turn.

An "Outside the Lines" report Friday claims the Baltimore Ravens employed "a pattern of misinformation and misdirection" in handling the case after Rice was videotaped striking his now-wife Janay in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February.

What does that mean? The primary allegation is that top Ravens officials knew of the existence of the infamous punch videotape months before it was ever made public by TMZ, then worked to ensure a minimal punishment for the team’s starting running back.

The report, which says it spoke to 20 sources within the team and the NFL, is lengthy and worth reading on your own. The NFL declined to comment on it.

The Ravens are disputing the assertions. Some of their comments are included in the OTL story. Later Friday, the team released a statement stopping short of a full denial but claiming inaccuracies:

"The ESPN.com ‘Outside the Lines’ article contains numerous errors, inaccuracies, false assumptions and, perhaps, misunderstandings," the statement read. "The Ravens will address all of these next week in Baltimore after our trip to Cleveland for Sunday’s game against the Browns."

Some of the key claims from the OTL report:

• Darren Sanders, the Ravens’ director of security, apparently was told what was on the infamous elevator tape that was made public by TMZ in September "just hours" after the original incident and "quickly" notified team executives;

• Ravens executives (owner Steve Bisciotti, president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome are named) embarked on "extensive public and private campaigns" seeking leniency in Rice’s punishment;

• The NFL took "an uncharacteristically passive approach" when it came to gathering evidence;

• Four of OTL’s sources say that Bisciotti urged Goodell to give Rice no more than a two-game suspension, which is what Goodell did on July 24;

• Four sources said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh wanted Rice released immediately upon seeing the initial video of him dragging Janay out of the elevator, though Harbaugh was supporting Rice publicly and the Ravens denied to OTL that Harbaugh wanted Rice released right away ("John Harbaugh did not want to release Ray Rice until he saw the second video on September 8 for the first time. The video changed everything for all of us.");

• The pretrial intervention program Rice entered is an unusual result, as the report says only "1 percent of all assault and aggravated assault cases" in New Jersey are resolved in that fashion;

• On the ongoing question of whether Rice provided an accurate account of events to Goodell in their meeting, this report says yes, he did;

• A source close to Goodell told OTL that after handing down the two-game punishment, the commissioner wasn’t sure he had done the right thing and that it gave the impression that Goodell "regretted that someone had talked him out of leveling a tougher penalty against Ray Rice;"

• Shortly after releasing Rice on Sept. 8, Bisciotti apparently sent Rice supportive text messages, intimating that the Ravens would have a job for him down the line (the team did not deny the sending of messages from Bisciotti to Rice);

• Those text messages made Rice feel as though Bisciotti was attempting to bribe him to keep quiet, a source close to Rice told OTL.

OTL says it sent several questions to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello and received this response, referencing only the investigation being led by former FBI director Robert Mueller:

"Mr. Mueller is in the process of conducting his investigation into the pursuit and handling of evidence in the Ray Rice domestic violence incident," Aiello said. "His report will be made public."

The Ravens disputed the report, OTL said, and commented that "it was not their initial understanding Rice had knocked out Janay ‘with a punch.’"

Reports surfaced earlier Friday that the Ravens held an emergency team meeting regarding "some potential revelations of what some knew and saw re: Rice," according to a tweet from CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora. This report would appear to be the reason for that.

All this on the same day that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell held a press conference reiterating the league’s stance that it had never seen the Rice videotape and outlining new initiatives to curb domestic violence among its players.

The truth is still unclear, but what is clear is that this story won’t be going away any time soon, and the Ravens — who had dodged most of the national criticism so far — are now going to be in the spotlight.