First things first — Robert Mueller is a former FBI director. This gives him the kind of credentials that make him check his drink in between sips when out in public. At least, we think so. He is also a partner at the Washington D.C. law firm WilmerHale. WilmerHale, in case you didn’t know, “helped negotiate the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package with DirecTV. The firm also has represented Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder,” according to ESPN, “and several former members of the firm have taken positions with NFL teams.” This is the kind of law firm that starts employees down a career path before allowing them to head off and join the league in an executive capacity and will write up a nice press release about you when you come back to the fold.
Needless to say, the vested professional interest that Muller has had in the NFL’s success has painted a slightly more cynical picture of his role in the league’s proceedings. As Rob Becker says in the video above, WilmerHale has “an incentive to favor the league in its report so it won’t risk losing future business,” before going on to say that hiring a separate firm would have “maintained the integrity [of the league’s investigation] and the perception of integrity.”
The perception of integrity regarding the NFL is something that the league has to be concerned about, since the front office has successfully botched everything in that regard since the incident started. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for assaulting his girlfriend in February, giving him a harsh punishment under the league’s precedent but an incredibly lenient one in the eyes of the rest of the world, then said that it had never seen a tape of the assault, only to have that promptly discovered as a very improbable circumstance (meaning the league probably/totally saw the tape and lied about it).
It means, then, that Muller’s role boils down to whether or not the NFL needs to have its commissioner, Roger Goodell, fall on the sword for the good of the sport. Remember, while Ray Rice was the galvanizing force behind the NFL’s faux reexamination of domestic violence (the rules are exactly the same as they were before), he’s hardly the only player that’s been arrested for it recently.
While NFL players actually get arrested less often than their non-athlete counterparts, when they do get busted, they’re either getting arrested for DUI or domestic violence. According to the number-wizards at FiveThirtyEight, “there are 83 domestic violence arrests, making it by far the NFL’s worst category — with a relative arrest rate of 55.4 percent. Although this is still lower than the national average, it’s extremely high relative to expectations. That 55.4 percent is more than four times worse than the league’s arrest rate for all offenses (13 percent), and domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to our estimated 21 percent nationally.”
Ray Rice, at some point, should be allowed a chance at penance. The NFL, though, needs to be nailed for the fact that, in the face of what looks to be a widespread problem with domestic violence throughout the league, its first concern was how to massage the incident in order to mitigate the bad press.