New York: An independent investigation led by former FBI director Robert Mueller will look into the NFL`s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday night.
The probe, which will conclude with a public report, will have the full cooperation of the league in obtaining records and interviews with league staff members.
The move came as pressure mounted on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell regarding exactly when the league first saw and obtained a video showing star Baltimore Ravens running back Rice knocking out his then-fiancee and now-wife, Janay Palmer, in a hotel elevator.
The probe will be overseen by two NFL team owners who are attorneys, Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers and John Mara of the New York Giants, and conducted by Mueller, who ran the FBI from 2001 to 2013.
Mueller`s investigation will look into how the NFL handled its initial probe of Rice, which Goodell said did not produce the key video despite requests to law-enforcement officials, in part because it would have been illegal interference in an ongoing legal matter.
Rice avoided jail time for the incident by agreeing in May to a pre-trial intervention program. In July, Goodell, who has guided the NFL since 2006, imposed only a two-game ban on Rice, one that was to have ended Friday.
Last month, Goodell said that he had given too soft a punishment, and toughened NFL penalties for domestic violence.
Only after video of Rice`s brutal left hook was revealed Monday by celebrity website TMZ did the Baltimore Ravens fire Rice, a star rusher who helped them win the 2013 Super Bowl, and Goodell suspend Rice indefinitely.
US lawmakers who oversee the NFL and its anti-trust exemptions regarding television deals criticized Goodell and requested details on the NFL`s investigation of Rice.
US Senator Dean Heller, a Republican on a Senate Commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction over the NFL, pressed for details about how Goodell will "address the harm your league has inflicted on survivors of domestic violence going forward."
"Commissioner Goodell must understand the scope and severity of domestic abuse acts," Heller wrote. "Judging from his actions, it`s time for the NFL to step its game up on this important matter.
"I am highly disappointed the NFL`s reaction was only heightened once the public witnessed the elevator video. By waiting to act until it was made public you effectively condoned the action of the perpetrator himself."And the leader of America`s largest women`s advocacy group called for Goodell, the boss of the world`s richest sports league, to resign.
"The NFL has lost its way," said National Organization for Women president Terry O`Neill. "It doesn`t have a Ray Rice problem. It has a violence against women problem.
"The only workable solution is for Roger Goodell to resign."
Goodell maintained no one at the NFL had seen the brutal video of Rice punching Palmer in am Atlantic City casino elevator last February before Monday.
"We did not see video of what took place inside the elevator until it was publicly released," Goodell said in a Wednesday memo to executives. "None of the law-enforcement entities we approached was permitted to provide any video or other investigatory material to us."
An Associated Press report, citing an unnamed law-enforcement source, said the video was in fact sent to the league in April and arrival was confirmed by a voicemail from an NFL phone number.
"We have no knowledge of this," the NFL said in a statement. "We are not aware of anyone who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it."
TMZ reported later Wednesday, citing an unnamed NFL source, that no one at the league saw the video or received the video, including about 475 employees at the NFL headquarters in New York plus NFL Films in New Jersey and cable television`s Los Angeles-based NFL Network.
US Senator Richard Blumenthal cited "Goodell`s burgeoning, insurmountable credibility gap" and said "if these reports are true, Commissioner Goodell must go."
Goodell said Tuesday in an interview with CBS that he does not believe his job is in jeopardy over his handling of the Rice affair.
"I`m used to criticism. I`m used to that," Goodell said. "Every day, I have to earn my stripes."
Due to the controversy, Goodell skipped an award ceremony Wednesday honoring Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who broke down in tears when addressing the issue of his team`s credibility in opposing domestic violence.
"When it comes to domestic violence my stance is not one of indifference. I stand firmly against domestic violence," he said as he wiped away tears. "To those who would suggest we have been too slow to act, I ask that you not be too quick to judge."
Carolina`s Chris Hardy is playing while an appeal is pending on his conviction for assaulting his former girlfriend.