SBJ/Sept. 15-21, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

From experience dealing with NFL, Cornwell thinks league asked for all evidence

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Attorney David Cornwell, a partner with law firm Gordon & Rees, has represented athletes in sensitive legal matters for 15 years, including multiple NFL players who were facing potential disciplinary action from the NFL, most notably Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He spoke to SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Liz Mullen last Tuesday about the Ray Rice investigation and about NFL player-disciplinary investigations in general.

Cornwell
What are your initial impressions of the Ray Rice situation?


CORNWELL: There is no question that the process could have and should have been better. And then the other thing is the result, and the result is right. Allowing Ray to continue to wear an NFL uniform is an insult to current and future NFL players. That video was deplorable and nothing less than an indefinite suspension is appropriate.

Do you think Roger Goodell had that elevator video tape prior to giving Rice a two-game suspension?

SBJ Podcast:
NFL writer Daniel Kaplan and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss the Ray Rice situation, the investigation around the handling of it and how the NFL has fared publicly.

CORNWELL: No. … Because he said he didn’t.

In NFL investigations, does the NFL typically get tapes of the incident — get the same tapes that the police get?
 
CORNWELL: Typically what the NFL does is obtain access to the court files, and they have also in the past asked a player and his attorney to provide relevant information to them as well. It may very well be that Ray’s attorney had the tape and didn’t turn it over. I just don’t know. But it does, clearly, reveal that the investigation was flawed.

If you were representing Rice and you had the tape from inside the elevator, would you have turned it over?

CORNWELL: From our experience, we know how the commissioner reacts when he believes the player hasn’t been straight with him. Ask Michael Vick. And to my personal experience and my professional experience with cases, it is our practice to err on the side of over-disclosing, because what happens in these things is you spend so much time talking to Adolpho (Birch, NFL senior vice president of labor policy and government affairs), Jeff (Pash, NFL executive vice president and general counsel) and the commissioner — and because you have had so many conversations and communications with them, if something were to come out that you didn’t disclose to them, it’s clear, from their perspective, that you withheld it because of the multiple conversations that you had on the subject matter. The better practice with the league is to disclose or over-disclose.
 
Do you think the NFL asked for that tape, knowing them the way you do?

CORNWELL: I do. I think what they asked for is all evidence, including video and audio recordings that captured the event. It’s hard to imagine that no one did a site inspection. And if you walk in the elevator and look up, you see there’s a camera, so you know there is some film you want.

Do they typically do a site inspection or send somebody to the site of where an incident has occurred?
 
CORNWELL: I can’t say typically, because all of these investigations involve different issues, so what the NFL typically does, I can’t speak to. But I can tell you, kind of Investigation 101 is, “This is the site,” so we understand what we are talking about.

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