In February, the New York Times did a fawning feature on Lisa Friel, the woman hired to make sure the NFL never had an investigatory embarrassment like the one they had in the Ray Rice case.
As the NFL’s Senior Vice President of Investigations, Friel would be relentless and undaunted, stated wrote Times reporter Dan Barry, who wrote:
The only issue (she declined even to call it a frustration) is the expectation by some of instant investigative findings following an allegation. Friel said that she was no longer in law enforcement, had no subpoena power and must pursue these cases more like a reporter or private investigator.
This means asking the local police department for incident reports, transcripts of 911 calls, photographs, interviews with responding officers. This means wading through redacted documents, being rebuffed by witnesses and alleged victims, waiting for the processing of freedom-of-information requests. This means hitting walls, putting together a to-do list, then waiting for the case to be adjudicated, dismissed or closed.
Barry then cited Friel who said, “Then we’re going to circle back and go through the whole list again."
Well, that certainly doesn’t align with what’s unfolding in the Josh Brown case.
Thursday, the league complained it hit a dead-end in its investigation into allegations of abuse by Brown. A portion of their statement:
“NFL investigators made repeated attempts — both orally and in writing — to obtain any and all evidence and relevant information in this case from the King County Sheriff’s Office. Each of those requests was denied and the Sheriff’s Office declined to provide any of the requested information, which ultimately limited our ability to fully investigate this matter. We concluded our own investigation, more than a year after the initial incident, based on the facts and evidence available to us at the time and after making exhaustive attempts to obtain information in a timely fashion. It is unfortunate that we did not have the benefit or knowledge of these materials at the time.”
Later Thursday, the NFL’s effort to get to the bottom of the Brown case – or at least get background – was lampooned by the man the league said turned them away. King County Sheriff John Urquhart, whose office investigated accusations that Brown abused his ex-wife while a member of the Seahawks, said the investigator that contacted his office didn’t make it clear he was representing the NFL.
“Since this is a hot-button item in the NFL, since it’s the NFL, we probably would have told them orally a little bit more about what we had.” Urquhart said. “But we don’t have them calling us here. We’ve got some goofus from Woodinville named Rob Agnew asking for the case file. We have no idea who he is.”
“We would have told them… ‘Be careful, NFL, don’t rush into this. This case is blossoming way more than what happened on May 22nd of 2015. We’re getting more information, be careful,’” he said. “Again, we’re not gonna give them specifics but we certainly would have cautioned the NFL to be careful about what they were going to do.”
The league has since taken exception to Urquhart’s representation of the facts.
Do you know how the league could have avoided embarrassing itself yet again, though? By being transparent, as I first wrote back in August when Brown’s one-game suspension came down and an explanation as to why he didn’t get six games was sorely needed.
Uncomfortable as it may have been to state publicly what the investigation had concluded at that point, citing mitigating factors that led to Brown’s reduced suspension and detailing the efforts made to get to the bottom of the situation would have at least put everything on the table.
I wrote then: The NFL had two choices when it how to package Brown’s suspension. Either leave people to presume it was trying to bury an infraction and save face for the beloved owner or a precious New York city franchise. Or demonstrate that there really was a new way of doing business by being painfully transparent.
It chose the former. And they now deal with the fallout of mistrust. Again. Still.
And today, it’s miles worse.