On January 8, 2015, former FBI Director Robert Mueller issued an investigative report outlining the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic assault in an Atlantic City casino elevator. This entire multi-month saga serves as a microcosm for a much broader asymmetric threat to U.S. national security. I’m referring to a black swan event known as an “artificially generated stampede.”
I’m not going to address allegations of whether or not NFL executives viewed the infamous elevator tape (before it found its way into the public domain). What I wish to explore is the shield of “plausible deniability” under which the NFL currently operates.
The NFL front office has layers of personnel specifically designed to protect its executives from becoming aware of potentially damaging information. It’s structured much like other organizations which safeguard their leadership hierarchy: industries such as banking, auto, tobacco, etc. Sometimes things function more smoothly if specific people at the top don’t know “everything.”
Regarding the Ray Rice assault, the buffer zone of plausible deniability was irrevocably compromised due to the existence of surveillance footage. Just the mere knowledge of such a video’s existence became a problem in and of itself. There were also alleged conversations. Furthermore, there was an electronic trail of information. That’s what made it such a messy situation. When the story blew up in the media, it required some form of resolution.
Any rational thinker would conclude that something bad must have happened in the elevator. But acknowledging or seeking out the footage became a lose-lose proposition — kind of a “we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t” scenario. With little to gain, deferring to the criminal justice system seemed like the wiser, safer and easier choice.
But all the while, there was a timeless refrain of “we should have done more.” The Mueller report could have provided an opportunity to assess the NFL’s chain of accountability and examine existing protocol for past and future incidents. But the Ray Rice investigation had an exceptionally narrow scope and focus. This was not an accident. It was by design.
Why? Because the NFL, which often operates under a veil of tight-lipped secrecy, would prefer to maintain the status quo. Regardless of the outcome, it was imperative that the bureaucratic infrastructure remain unchallenged. Anything that could demonstrably impact the existing “hear no evil, see no evil” methodology might open up a can of worms and quickly spiral into a public relations nightmare.
NFL owners Art Rooney II and John Mara oversaw the Mueller investigation. I would call into question their impartiality as they have a vested financial interest in its outcome. Nonetheless, they issued a joint statement:
“As owners, we are the first to agree that the NFL did not have a sufficient policy in place to deal with players or other personnel accused of domestic violence.
“This matter has tarnished the reputation of the NFL due to our failure to hand out proper punishments. It has been a wake-up call to all involved and we expect the changes that have been made will lead to improvements in how any similar issues are handled in the future.”
I disagree with their assessment that it has been a “wake-up call.” I also disagree that it will lead to “improvements.” If that were the case, the NFL front office would actively examine and address the potential for artificially generated stampedes in any of their 31 stadiums.
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III statement:
“We concluded there was substantial information about the incident – even without the in-elevator video – indicating the need for a more thorough investigation. The NFL should have done more with the information it had, and should have taken additional steps to obtain all available information about the February 15 incident.”
Hmmm, sounds like an elementary case of woulda, shoulda, coulda. So why didn’t anybody do anything?
For decades, the NFL has operated under a mafia-inspired structure designed to protect executives and ownership. Let’s face it. There’s a lot at stake. In the aftermath of an artificially generate stampede, or worst case scenario dominipede, the NFL would have to answer one of the most blatantly obvious questions ever conceived…
Did ANYONE affiliated with the NFL ever consider or discuss the notion of 50,000 – 100,000 active cell phones capable of transmitting intentionally false information (emergency evac orders, bomb threats, etc.) while a game is in progress? When I use the term “anyone,” I’m referring to security experts, stadium management, web technicians, social media consultants, season ticket holders, tv commentators, journalists, etc. That’s a pretty big list of people and a wide range of perspectives.
Are we to assume that an issue this generic has NEVER been broached? The American public might have an affinity for the pharmaceutical industry, but if you were to claim the contrary, that’s a really difficult pill to swallow.
In an ideal world, you simply do what’s right. In this case, you explicitly warn people that official stadium evacuation orders don’t come from cell phones. This is not complex. If an evacuation is deemed absolutely necessary, they use the public address system in tandem with the video monitors — to present a clear, unified directive. But as you can see from the Ray Rice scandal, when the stakes are high, people don’t necessarily do what is right. They do what is right… for them.
When it comes to stadium safety, the NFL adheres to outsourced, centralized decision making. Policy doesn’t evolve from the bottom and flow upward. Policy comes from the top and is dictated downward. Every team and stadium must comply with identical standards. This makes it exceedingly difficult to engage in problem solving and troubleshooting, especially when dealing with emergency evacuation protocol and the potential for human stampedes — which are by definition, extraordinarily taboo subjects.
I’m open to an informed debate about the pros and cons of centralized NFL security with regard to decision making and procedural implementation, but I defy you to find anyone willing to make the argument that the specific concerns I’ve outlined in this article would support the current, bureaucratic structure. One dominated by public relations concerns, driven by profit and dedicated to maintaining the status quo.
The whole thing’s kind of an oxymoron. The NFL likes its fans to get loud! But the NFL front office is not very receptive to hearing the actual words.
This isn’t about domestic violence. It’s about domestic silence. In keeping with that sentiment, I penned a book and freely published it on the internet. It’s the game day journey of a Pittsburgh 5th grader as he tries to expose the flawed state of security at Heinz Field.
The Immaculate Rejection
Feel free to share this book. The information is valuable, but in keeping with the NFL paradox, it will never be for sale.
One final thought. In a January 13, 2015 briefing, President Obama declared how we must improve our nation’s cybersecurity, especially in the wake of the Sony and CENTCOM hacking scandals. However, you’ll never hear Obama discuss the prospect of an artificially generated stampede. Because the same premise of plausible deniability which guides the NFL applies to the federal government as well.