TIME Baseball

Sy Berger, Designer of the Modern Baseball Card, Dies at 91

2014 Major League Baseball T-Mobile All-Star FanFest
Fans hold Topps Baseball same day baseball cards during the T-Mobile Major League Baseball All-Star FanFest at the Minneapolis Convention Center on Friday, July 11, 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Taylor Baucom—MLB Photos via Getty Images

Baseball cards actually date to the 1800s, but Berger was responsible for turning them into the version we know today

Sy Berger, who brought about the modern baseball trading card, thus creating an American cultural past-time and a flashpoint for childhood nostalgia, died on Sunday at his home in Rockville Centre, New York. He was 91.

The Lower East Side-born inventor is credited with turning the Brooklyn-based Topps company into the biggest name in the baseball card business, after introducing the first Topps cards in 1951, the New York Times reports.

Though baseball cards date to the 1800s, Berger was responsible for turning them into the version we know today: big, colorful, and imbued with meaning. The Times reports that Berger also collected cards as a kid and worshipped Wally Berger (no relation), of the Boston Braves, as a boyhood hero.



Johnny Manziel Stumbles Early, Often in Less Than Spectacular Debut Start

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel rolls out during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on Dec. 14, 2014 Joe Maiorana—USA Today Sports/ Reuters

“He played like a rookie, and looked like a rookie”

Let’s be clear about one thing amid all the infernally hot takes regarding the first NFL start of Johnny Manziel: A bad start to an NFL career doesn’t really mean much. For every quarterback who has started hot only to flame out just as quickly, there’s a quarterback who threw up all over himself to start his career and then went on to do great things.

That said, Manziel’s performance against the Cincinnati Bengals was not one that will have tongues wagging about his future — at least, not in a positive sense. Manziel looked overwhelmed and frustrated more often than not in Sunday’s 30-0 loss, throwing several passes too high and finishing with 10 completions in 18 attempts for 80 passing yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and three sacks. Cincinnati’s defense, which had been exploited by the legs of Carolina’s Cam Newton in a 37-37 Week 6 tie, shut Manziel down in the Bengals’ second matchup against a truly mobile quarterback this season. Manziel ran five times for 13 yards, and most of them were scrambles as opposed to designed runs.

“He didn’t play well,” Browns head coach Mike Pettine said after the game. “He played like a rookie, and looked like a rookie.”

Not that it was all Manziel’s fault. The Browns managed only 53 rushing yards on 17 attempts and had just 38 total plays. Cleveland’s defense, which had kept the team afloat while Brian Hoyer had been dealing with his own struggles under center, gave up 244 yards on the ground on 45 carries and allowed rookie Jeremy Hill to run wild for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 25 attempts. Andy Daltonwasn’t too great himself, completing 14-of-24 passes for 117 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, but the Bengals were firing on all other cylinders, while the Browns were decidedly not.

Myriad quarterback issues aside, it may be time to concede that the Browns aren’t a very good team, that their 7-7 record is about as positive a result as could be expected, and it’s time to let either Manziel or Hoyer take their lumps while a foundation is built around them. There’s a great deal of talent in Cleveland, from the offensive line to the backfield to the defense, but this is a team that is struggling to hold it together consistently. What Pettine must do now is avoid the quarterback back-and-forth he’s engaged in of late. He’s seen Hoyer become ineffective, and he’s seen Manziel take his lumps. The question going forward is whether the Browns will let Manziel try to unlock his higher upside or give the ball back to Hoyer and hope that experience trumps the veteran’s obvious limitations.

What we do know is that Manziel didn’t make anyone’s job easier with this performance. Including his own. Pettine said after the game that Manziel will get to start the rest of the way this season, but we’ll see how the vagaries of the position play out.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Military

Where the U.S. Army Is Winless

Army v Navy
Army cadets cheer on their football team Saturday in their annual game against Navy. Rob Carr / Getty Images

Pall of football defeats hangs over West Point since 9/11

Thirteen years ago, two months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the U.S. finally had something to celebrate. “We believe the Taliban appears to have abandoned Kabul,” General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, declared on Nov. 13, 2001, a scant 38 days after the U.S. launched its invasion of Afghanistan. The Taliban, who had given sanctuary to those who carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, were on the run.

Nineteen days later, in the warm afterglow that followed, Army beat Navy, 26-17, in the annual gridiron classic between the nation’s two oldest military academies. It was the last game they’d play at Philadelphia’s now-gone Veterans Stadium.

It was also the last time Army beat Navy (Navy leads the series with 59 wins, 49 losses, and seven ties).

History repeated itself again Saturday, as Navy beat Army 17-10 in Baltimore in their 115th clash. The sting hurts even more given Army’s pregame hype.

For more than a decade, as Army loss follows Army loss, it has been distressing to see the Black Knights of West Point, N.Y., lose to the Midshipmen of Annapolis, Md. If the Army can’t prevail on the gridiron, the thinking goes, how can it beat the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS)? Football, after all, is a game played in the dirt—the Army’s home turf—not in salt water.

The streak has led to stories like this from Duffel Blog, a website dedicated to fake news about the U.S. military, shortly before kickoff:

The Army’s record-breaking 12-game losing streak against the Naval Academy is actually an experiment to build officer resiliency for the military’s next impossible war, according to one senior West Point official. “We’re going to win this time!” U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno is expected to exclaim to a crowd of crestfallen cadets in the locker room of M&T Bank Stadium, unconsciously echoing both William Westmoreland in 1971 and Secretary of Defense Charles Hagel last Friday…“Look at this way,” a leaked document of Gen. Odierno’s prepared remarks reveal. “Even at 0-12, we’ve still beaten Navy more recently than we’ve beaten any of America’s actual enemies!”

Football, with its goal lines, sidelines and referees, has a clarity that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq lack. But few believe that the Army—the service that has done the bulk of the fighting, and dying in both (accounting for 4,955 of 6,828 U.S. military deaths, or 73%)—has achieved victories there.

Since 9/11, 95 graduates of the U.S. Military Academy have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sixteen from the U.S. Naval Academy have made the ultimate sacrifice, including 2nd Lieutenant J.P. Blecksmith, Class of 2003. He caught a pass in the last game the Army won. Blecksmith was following in the footsteps of his father, who served as a Marine in Vietnam. As the Marines fought to retake the Iraqi city of Fallujah on Nov. 11—Veterans Day—2004, a sniper killed him.

Granted, it’s foolish to link wars with games. Football no more resembles war than it resembles life. But the ethos of football—grit, self-sacrifice, playing through pain—isn’t foreign to those on the battlefield.

And the battle continues in Afghanistan. The Taliban once again are stepping up their attacks in and around Kabul, the capital. Early Saturday, a pair of men on a motorbike shot and killed a top Afghan court official, as he walked from his home to his car in a northwestern suburb of Kabul. Late Friday, a bomb killed two U.S. soldiers north of Kabul. A pair of attacks killed six Afghan soldiers and 12 men clearing clearing landmines.

But the U.S., more or less, has decided to pick up its ball and head home. “This month, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over,” President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio address Saturday. “Our war in Afghanistan is coming to a responsible end.”

It’s a lot easier to define end than it is to define responsible. Check back in a year to see if Army’s other losing streak has come to an end, too.

TIME College football

Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Trophy Win Adds to Oregon’s Stunning Success

Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota answers questions during a press conference after winning the Heisman Trophy
Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota answers questions during a press conference after winning the Heisman Trophy in New York on Dec. 13, 2014. Brad Penner—USA Today Sports/Reuters

80th Heisman Trophy goes to Oregon’s quarterback

NEW YORK – Oregon wasn’t too concerned with subtlety during the 2001 season. That fall, the school kickstarted quarterback Joey Harrington’s Heisman Trophy campaign with a 10-story billboard plastered nearby Madison Square Garden in New York. The Ducks’ takeover of the Big Apple was the most visible element of Harrington’s campaign for the Heisman Trophy that season. For better or worse, the school’s efforts worked; Harrington escaped the relative anonymity of the Pacific Northwest and reached New York as a finalist, finishing fourth.

Thirteen years later, Marcus Mariota entered the season as another Heisman candidate hailing from Eugene. But how would the Hawaii native have felt about a billboard featuring his face the size of a minivan?

“I wouldn’t have enjoyed that,” Mariota said.

Luckily for the shy Mariota, he didn’t need the extra attention. Oregon’s quarterback did enough on his own this season. On Saturday, Mariota claimed the 80th Heisman Trophy, earning 90.92 percent of possible points, second all-time behind Ohio State‘s Troy Smith. He earned 788 first-place votes, which is the third-most in Heisman history, and he was named on 95.16 percent of ballots. That’s a new Heisman record.

Simply put, Mariota ran all over the Heisman competition.

More than a decade after Harrington’s campaign, Mariota became the first Oregon player inducted into the Heisman fraternity. His victory marked another milestone for the Ducks’ program, one that’s undergone a transformation since Harrington’s campaign 13 seasons ago. But in evolving into one of the country’s power programs, two achievements have eluded Oregon: A Heisman Trophy winner and a national championship. Now Mariota has delivered one to Eugene. Can he deliver another?

The Ducks couldn’t ask for a better star to lead the charge. Mariota compiled a season for the ages this fall. His 53 total touchdowns tied the Heisman record set by 2008 winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and finished the regular season as the nation’s leader in passing efficiency (183.6) thanks to a remarkable 38 touchdown passes against only two interceptions. The Pac-12 champions finished 12-1 and secured a Rose Bowl berth where they will play unbeaten Florida State.

The results must sound like a broken record to Ducks fans. Since former coach Mike Bellotti led Oregon to its first 10-win season in 2000 — one year before Harrington’s run to New York — the program has won 146 games, six conference titles and notched 10 double-digit wins seasons. Two other Oregon players, quarterback Dennis Dixon and running back LaMichael James, finished in the top-five of Heisman voting during that span.

Now the program has its first Heisman Trophy. Suddenly, Oregon doesn’t need billboards the size of skyscrapers to get noticed. Mariota is one of the biggest reasons why.

“I think through the continuation of the development of the program in the last decade, and all the thing that come with it — building a national brand, the uniforms, etc. — people are watching [Oregon] now,” Harrington told SI.com. “People have noticed how phenomenal Marcus has been really for three years now.”

The program’s evolution has been palpable to those who have witnessed the progress first-hand.

“Over the last several decades, Oregon football just keep rising and building and building,” said athletic director Rob Mullins, who’s been at Oregon since 2010. “The on-field success is showing itself. We’ve been in national championship games. We’ve been in a number of BCS bowl games. We’ve proven ourselves to be a consistent contender across the country.

“Obviously having a Heisman trophy is significant, and having it be the person that it is makes it even more significant. I don’t know how to measure it, but it’s nice to have.”

Mariota has led Oregon to a 35-4 record in those three seasons, but that record isn’t without blemishes. Mariota couldn’t beat Stanford until this season, and the Ducks fell to an unranked Arizona team late in 2013. Entering this fall, Oregon’s decade-plus of dominance was still without a championship trophy in its Nike-infused football complex. Mariota, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in Pac-12 history, likely had one final shot at Heisman glory in 2014.

But history threatened to repeat itself this past October, when Oregon again fell to an unranked Arizona squad, 31-24, on a Thursday night. Mariota’s decision to spurn the NFL for another season in Eugene appeared destined for more disappointment.

“I think that was definitely a part of his thought process when he was thinking about coming back, ending on the right note,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. “Whether it was losing to Stanford or losing to Arizona last year, just righting that in his mind. I think that played a part. I think it also played a part in helping his teammates to do that.”

Instead of wilting, the Ducks won eight straight games after losing to the Wildcats. But they need two more to earn the championship that has eluded them for so long. That task starts Jan. 1 in Pasadena against the Seminoles and last season’s Heisman winner, quarterback Jameis Winston. With a win, Oregon will play for a national championship for the first time since 2010.

That’s the goal for Mariota and the Ducks going forward. Asked on Saturday to reflect on the Heisman’s significance for the Oregon program, the quarterback said he’d trade the trophy in a second if it meant bringing a championship to Eugene. Mariota still has a chance to do that for the first time as a starter. That’ll be Oregon’s ultimate sign of success, as wins are no longer the benchmark for the program. The Ducks finally need a championship to complete their growth.

If Mariota plays his game, he’ll fill Oregon’s trophy case with a Heisman and a national title in the same season. That’s why he’s counting down the days until he can hit the field again.

“Honestly, I’m looking forward to it,” Mariota said.” These last couple days have been hectic, but it’s been so much fun. I’m just looking forward to getting back on the field. We do have a team goal. That’s the biggest concern.”

This article originally appeared on SportsIllustrated.com


What Next for Suspended NFL Star Adrian Peterson?

Adrian Peterson Hearing
NFL running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings addresses the media after pleading "no contest" to a lesser misdemeanor charge of reckless assault on Nov. 4, 2014 in Conroe, Texas. Bob Levey—Getty Images

A look at where the Minnesota Vikings running back stands with his team and the league

An arbitrator denied Adrian Peterson‘s appeal of a season-long suspension, the latest chapter in what feels like a never ending saga surrounding the league’s former MVP.

“The facts in this appeal are uncontested,” arbitrator Harold Henderson wrote. “The player entered a plea which effectively admitted guilt to a criminal charge of child abuse, after inflicting serious injuries to his four-year old son in the course of administering discipline. No direct evidence of the beating was entered in the record here, but numerous court documents, investigative reports, photographs and news reports, all accepted into evidence without objection, make it clear that Mr. Peterson’s conduct was egregious and aggravated as those terms are used in the Policy, and merits substantial discipline. … I reject the argument that placement in Commissioner Exempt status is discipline. I conclude that the player has not demonstrated that the process and procedures surrounding his discipline were not fair and consistent; he was afforded all the protections and rights to which he is entitled, and I find no basis to vacate or reduce the discipline.”

The Vikings placed Peterson on the exempt list after he was charged with child abuse in Texas. He later entered a no-contest plea in exchange for avoiding jail time. Peterson was fined and ordered to complete community service.

Peterson then lingered on that exempt list — still paid by the Vikings but unable to play — until Nov. 18, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for the remainder of 2014 and announced that the running back’s status would not be revisited until April 15, 2015. That six-game penalty could roll into next season, with Weeks 15-17 of this year and Weeks 1-3 of next year counting as the punishment.

Peterson appealed in hopes of returning to the field (or at least to the Vikings’ active payroll) sooner. After Friday’s decision, Peterson reportedly will take his appeal to federal court.

Where does he stand in the meantime with the Vikings and the league? A closer look at those issues:

Current status: As mentioned above, Peterson had been on the exempt list prior to Goodell’s ruling. While there, he had earned a prorated portion of the $11.25 million salary Minnesota owed him for the 2014 season. His permanent move now to an NFL-mandated suspension means that Peterson will forfeit his salary for the final three weeks of the year.

Goodell could opt to reinstate Peterson for the beginning of the 2015 season, essentially crediting him with time served. The commissioner will not have to make that decision until April, barring a ruling in favor of Peterson from federal court.

Contract: Peterson remains under contract in Minnesota through 2017, and he is still owed upward of $43 million in total, including $12.75 million next season.

The key for the Vikings at this point, though, is that the guaranteed money on Peterson’s deal has been paid already. What that means is Minnesota could release him at the end of the 2014 season and owe him no further money.

In other words, from a financial standpoint, the Vikings could part ways with Peterson rather easily. Which leads us to …

What happens in Minnesota?: The simplest solution for all parties would be for the Vikings to cut bait on Peterson after the league year ends. He could secure a fresh start elsewhere, while the Vikings could move forward with an extra $11.75 million next season.

Two alternatives: 1. The Vikings opt to hold onto Peterson, perhaps asking him to restructure his contract in light of how this season unfolded. He did make more than $7 million while playing one game, after all.

Or, 2. The Vikings could attempt to trade him. His cap hit and still-intact suspension would be roadblocks, but in similar fashion to the Jets‘ trade for Percy Harvin, any interested team could bail with no cap penalty.

Odds are that Peterson has played his last game as a Viking, one way or another.

Would another team give him a shot?: Short answer: yes.

Though he will have gone 12 months between games by the time he can take the field again, Peterson remained one of the league’s most exciting backs pre-suspension. The year off actually could work in his favor from a football sense. It’s 15-18 less games of tread worn off his tires.

If the Vikings release Peterson, his contract would be wiped off the books, so his next team could start from scratch with a much cheaper deal.

Peterson earlier expressed some interest in playing for Dallas. Could Jerry Jones give him a chance if DeMarco Murray walks in free agency?

That may be the most obvious fit right now, but other teams no doubt will give Peterson consideration.

This article was originally published on SI.com


Adrian Peterson’s Appeal Denied, Suspension Upheld

Adrian Peterson Hearing
NFL running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings addresses the media after pleading "no contest" to a lesser misdemeanor charge of reckless assault on Nov. 4, 2014 in Conroe, Texas. Bob Levey—Getty Images

(MINNEAPOLIS) — An arbiter appointed by the NFL to hear Adrian Peterson’s appeal has ruled that the Minnesota Vikings running back will remain suspended until at least next spring.

The decision by Harold Henderson, a former league official, was announced on Friday. His ruling upheld the NFL’s decision last month to suspend Peterson without pay for the remainder of the season and not consider him for reinstatement until April 15.

The NFL Players Association balked at the punishment. Peterson was charged with felony child abuse in September for using a wooden switch to discipline his son, but he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault in November. He had been on paid leave while his case moved through the court system.

TIME Football

Darren Sharper Indicted on Rape Charges in New Orleans

Former professional football player Darren Sharper appears for his arraignment in Los Angeles, Ca on Feb. 20, 2014
Former professional football player Darren Sharper appears for his arraignment in Los Angeles, Ca on Feb. 20, 2014 Mario Anzuoni—Reuters

Former NFL star Darren Sharper was indicted Friday in New Orleans on three rape charges

Former Saints safety Darren Sharper has been indicted in New Orleans on two counts of aggravated rape and a count of simple rape, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office announced Friday.

The two counts of aggravated rape stem from an accusation that he sexually assaulted two impaired women at his apartment in September 2013. The simple rape charge comes from a separate incident with a different woman in August 2013.

Another man, Erik Nunez, was also charged with two counts of aggravated rape for his involvement with the woman, while Sharper’s friend Brandon Licciardi was indicted on a charge of aggravated rape from February 2013.

Sharper was jailed in California in February on charges that he drugged and raped two women he met at a West Hollywood nightclub. He was also charged with sexually assaulting two women in Arizona.

A preliminary hearing for his charges in Los Angeles was recently delayed and is expected to be moved to January.

If convicted in New Orleans, Sharper could face a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Sports

How the Heisman Trophy Got Its Name

John Heisman
ATLANTA - John Heisman, head coach of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, circa 1904-1919. Collegiate Images / Getty Images

John Heisman's name is famous — his career, not so much

The latest winner of the Heisman Trophy, the annual top award for college football players, will be announced on Saturday. But, while the trophy and its signature pose have become synonymous with college football success, the actual career of this “Heisman” guy isn’t exactly well-known.

So who was Heisman, and why is there a trophy named after him?

As the award’s official site lays out, John W. Heisman was — unsurprisingly — a college football player, active in the late 19th century. After that, his story gets a lot more noteworthy. For one thing, while studying law and playing ball at the University of Pennsylvania, his eyesight was damaged — his official bio says by a bolt of lightning striking nearby, but other sources argue that the damage was more likely to have come from exposure to flashing lights during a football game he played at Madison Square Garden. In any case, he graduated but was unable to go straight to a law practice, as his eyes needed to rest.

In 1892, he began coaching at Oberlin College — and he never did get around to practicing law. His coaching career took him to schools including Georgia Tech, Auburn and UPenn. He’s also credited with introducing the center snap, the hidden ball trick and the practice of paying coaches. After he retired from coaching, he worked at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City, where he founded the National Football Coaches Association and organized a vote to pick the best college player of the year. The first such award, in 1935, went to Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago; the trophy has been in the shape of a player with his arm extended since the very beginning.

Heisman died the next year and the award was then named in his honor — an honor that continues to this day.

Not that everything about the Heisman Trophy is about honoring him: when Berwanger died in 2002, it was reported that the player’s aunt had used the first-ever Heisman Trophy as a doorstop.

Read a 1973 story about Oberlin’s athletic program, here in the TIME Vault: Overhaul at Oberlin

TIME Money

This MLB Team Has the Most Expensive Beer in Baseball

Red Sox Beer
Red Sox Pitcher Curt Schilling holds a beer to the crowd, mostly Red Sox fans after the Sox won the series 4-0. Andy Cross—Denver Post via Getty Images

In 2014, Fenway supplied the most expensive beer per ounce in the MLB

Fenway Park is representative of how the game used to be played and how it probably always will be: the sound made when a wooden bat connects with the ball; the crescendo of noise as the ball arches toward center field; and mildly cold draft beer, spilled or unspilled, but likely mildly cold in either case.

While the Red Sox couldn’t quite pull it together in 2014, finishing the season at well under .500 and last in the AL East, there’s one leading metric Red Sox fans can hold onto until next season. In 2014, Fenway supplied the most expensive beer per ounce served in Major League Baseball.

Using our MLB Teams topic with data supplied by Chicago-based Team Marketing Report, FindTheBest set out to determine and then visualize the cost of brews served at big league ballparks. With the price of the smallest size of beer available in a ballpark as one input in TMR’s Fan Cost Index, here was the outlook for the 2014 season on a per-ounce basis. Tap into the visual to take an in-depth dive into any team:

In March 2014, the release date of the TMR report, the Red Sox reported that 12 ounces of beer would cost $7.75, or $0.65 an ounce. This likely relates to small domestic drafts, with craft brews presumably commanding a premium.

To put that into perspective, the second most expensive beer per ounce, found at the home of the St. Louis Cardinals, clocked in at $6.75 for the same 12 ounces, a much more palatable—but still pricey—$0.56 an ounce. Boston’s perennial rival, the New York Yankees, reported a price of $6 for 12 ounces (the smallest size available at Yankee Stadium), or $0.50 an ounce, the third highest per-ounce price for beer in baseball (a per-ounce price shared by the San Francisco Giants, Miami Marlins, and Seattle Mariners).

Looking at all 30 big league teams, the median smallest-size beer offering was 15 ounces, close to but not quite a proper 16-ounce pint. The league median per-ounce price was $0.41 for the smallest beer available in each stadium.

If we were to sort the price of beer at each stadium and ignore the size of the drink, the picture naturally changes somewhat. Still, the Red Sox are right there near the top. If you tap into the header for ‘Average Ticket Price,’ you can re-sort the list according to that metric.

Ignoring drink size, the Yankees would fall further down the list, and the Marlins would have the most expensive beer in baseball at $8.00. In a simplified sense, assuming you buy one small beer and pay the average ticket price, the best deal in baseball this season could be found in San Diego at $21.37.

Given the same assumptions, you also could attend a game at 11 major league stadiums and not pay more than $30 at each. Conservatively presented, the priciest deals in baseball were at Fenway and Yankee Stadium, where one small beer and the price of the average ticket would run you $60.07 and $57.55, respectively. Any way you cut the numbers, though, these prices are still by and large much more reasonable than the price of beers at NFL games this season.

This article was written for TIME by Ryan Chiles of FindTheBest.

More from FindTheBest:

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Predicting the 20 Most Likely MLB Hall of Fame Inductees

2014 Editors’ Choice: Best Cars


Roger Goodell’s Worst Words

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looks on as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft speaks at an NFL press conference announcing new measures for the league's personal conduct policy during an owners meeting on Dec. 10, 2014, in Irving, Texas.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looks on as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft speaks at an NFL press conference announcing new measures for the league's personal conduct policy during an owners meeting on Dec. 10, 2014, in Irving, Texas. Brandon Wade—AP

TIME's Sean Gregory weighs in on a troubling September memo the NFL commissioner

Second, on multiple occasions, we asked the proper law enforcement authorities to share with us all relevant information, including any video of the incident. Those requests were made to different law enforcement entities, including the New Jersey State Police, the Atlantic City Police Department, the Atlantic County Police Department and the Atlantic County Solicitor’s Office. The requests were first made in February following the incident, and were again made following Mr. Rice’s entry into the pre-trial diversion program. None of the law enforcement entities we approached was permitted to provide any video or other investigatory material to us. As is customary in disciplinary cases, the suspension imposed on Mr. Rice in July was based on the information available to us at that time.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote this paragraph in a Sept. 10 memo to NFL owners and team presidents, which explained his investigative process in the Ray Rice incident. Two days earlier, TMZ.com published video of Rice knocking out his then-fiancée in an elevator of an Atlantic City casino. Goodell then suspended Rice indefinitely.

These are troubling words, because ESPN reported Wednesday that the transcript of Rice’s appeals healing — a judge lifted his suspension last week — shows that they’re very likely not true. According ESPN, the NFL’s lead investigator into the Rice incident told the league’s head of security, in an email, that “again, I never spoke to anyone at the casino or the police department about the tape.” At the end of the email chain, he wrote, “I never contacted anyone about the tape.”

The takeaways seem pretty clear: Either Goodell was frighteningly incompetent here, or he distorted the truth in that memo. For him — or his staff — to sit down and compose a letter saying the NFL asked for the tape, while the head of the Rice investigation is saying the exact opposite, is startling. This wasn’t Goodell misspeaking at a press conference or in an off-the-cuff moment. These words were prepared, and had to be vetted and fact-checked for accuracy.

So was Goodell lying, or is the paragraph just bumbling? Goodell seems to lean toward the latter: In the Rice hearing, when a lawyer informs Goodell of the emails, the commissioner responds: “I wasn’t aware of the fact that they tried to get it from law enforcement.” Really? So amidst the most intense public scrutiny the NFL has ever seen, Goodell sent out a letter to his bosses without asking the head of the Rice investigation if it was indeed accurate? Or did the head of the Rice investigation, Jim Buckley, and the recipient of the email, NFL chief security officer Jeffrey B. Miller, not tell Goodell that Miller hadn’t asked for the tape? Or did the NFL fudge the truth to seem like it had followed basic investigative protocol?

No matter what, it’s a head-scratching mess. This exchange is not unrelated to the NFL’s announcement earlier on Wednesday that an investigator, not Goodell, would be in charge of initial disciplinary proceedings under the league’s revamped personal conduct policy. (Though Goodell can remain involved in the appeals process). At the very least, Goodell clearly needs to get out of the judge and jury role. The owners have stuck by him through this crisis. How long will their patience last?

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