Real-Life ‘Jerry Maguire’ Agent: Ray Rice’s Stardom Stopped NFL From Issuing Harsher Punishment

“One has to assume that he described, blow-by-blow, what happened in that elevator and Goodell already knew that Rice had hit and knocked out his then-fianceé,” Leigh Steinberg tells TheWrap

Ray Rice Baltimore Ravens

It took months of criticism and, more significantly, the publication of a tape depicting the assault he committed against his then-fianceé, to get football star Ray Rice suspended indefinitely by the NFL and cut by the Baltimore Ravens.

The NFL claims league officials hadn’t seen the video when commissioner Roger Goodell gave Rice a two-game suspension, a relatively short punishment that earned the league so much flak that it had to re-write its bylaws. Whether Goodell really was ignorant of the tape, super agent Leigh Steinberg, whose life inspired the film “Jerry Maguire,” thinks the league knew more than enough to issue Rice a long punishment back in July.

TMZ founder Harvey Levin told a Fox station in Washington, D.C. that his outlet has proof the NFL knew the second elevator video existed before it was released Monday.

Also read: NFL Star Ray Rice Terminated by Baltimore Ravens After Domestic Violence Video Leaks

“If you listen to Goodell’s reaction following his interview with Ray Rice [in July], he said, ‘Ray Rice shared everything with me, was completely transparent,’ something to that effect,” Steinberg told TheWrap on Monday. “One has to assume that he described, blow-by-blow, what happened in that elevator, and Goodell already knew that Rice had hit and knocked out his then-fianceé (Janay Palmer). Baltimore also said that Rice had been completely transparent.

“And so, if that’s true, both the Ravens and Goodell knew that their player, who is incredibly powerful, far off the chart in terms of capacity to do physical harm, had used that against a woman. And so that should have been enough to send a very dramatic message, both to Rice and to the NFL, and to the larger public.”

Instead, Rice’s two-game suspension was a poor decision that Steinberg chalks up as an effort to protect one of the league’s best running backs, who had a clean history before the shocking incident.

Also read: TMZ Claims NFL Knew About Ray Rice Elevator Video and ‘Turned a Blind Eye’

“I’m sad to say, but Ray Rice is an invaluable piece of the Ravens’ success,” the agent said. “In a pass-happy league, he’s still a critical key to moving the ball along. He’s a terrific and impactful running back, he’s one of the big stars of the NFL.

“So how does that impact it? Well it certainly impacts on the prosecutors’ decision to not charge him, so there’s your first failure,” he continued. “And it certainly impacts on the way that the Ravens treated the situation, because they circled the wagons to come to his defense. And it certainly impacts the way the commissioner deals with him.”

Rice will not be paid his salary by the Ravens, and the remaining $9 million of the bonus he was given in his 2012 contract could be stripped due to a conduct clause.

Also read: Seth Rogen Tells NFL Commissioner to ‘Get Your Head Out of Your F–king Ass’ Over Ray Rice Punishment

While Rice might not play in the NFL again, Steinberg thinks he could someday make a comeback.

“There’s a belief in this country and in the NFL in redemption,” he said. “So do we throw someone on the trash heap for history for one act? Depends on what they do. If he comes back and he’s in an anger management program and the rest of it, and he’s already said he’ll do some good things, not necessarily. We like a comeback.”

After all, Michael Vick served 21 months in jail for his part in a dog-fighting ring, then came back to play for the Philadelphia Eagles and now the New York Jets. Either way, with Rice now away from the game, the focus turns to the NFL and the Ravens.

“It shouldn’t take a TMZ tape to set NFL policy on domestic violence, or a team’s reaction to a player who commits it,” Steinberg added. “So there was failure here on a number of different levels, and if you think about it, being America’s most popular sport, the NFL has a unique opportunity to set the standard in role modeling against dometic violence.”

Khalil Garriott contributed to this report.