Give Roger Goodell credit for getting one thing right Friday in the first press conference since his football world began to fall in on him. It was not his admission that he got the Ray Rice punishment wrong the first time. He said that three weeks ago.
“I don’t expect anyone,” he said Friday to media in New York and a national TV audience on ESPN, “to just take my word.”
Right then, he should have stopped. Because most everything else became meaningless.
By training and profession, Goodell showed he was every bit the corporate lawyer: Emotionless, evasive, indirect, scripted, manipulative and unconvincing. He outlined a plan that was classic NFL: Form a bunch of committees with outside experts, throw millions of dollars in the general direction of the problem and let’s go play some foobaw.
If you saw the syllabus from Concussions Settlement 101, you are familiar.
Goodell’s failure to understand his lack of credulity is hardly unique to him. Many CEOs are trapped in a similar false sense of security: “Hey, I got us this far; how could I be wrong?”
He was wrong from the start of his tenure. When in 2007 he made himself Lord High Executioner regarding players’ personal conduct violations, he set himself up for the cavalcade of crap that has befallen him.
He and the NFL have known since the early 1990s that concussions had long-term impacts on brain function, yet only under threat of litigation from retired players did the league change the rules on violent contact – in the middle of the 2010 season, no less.
Then the league, sensing the desperation of the retired players for financial help in the litigation, threw $765 million — a pittance in the scale of this class-action — to settle over 20 years with an agreement that the NFL would not admit to wrongdoing. The cynicism of that maneuver is breathtaking in its depth and breadth.
His handling in 2012 of the New Orleans Saints bounty-for-hits saga was so ham-fisted that his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, had to be brought in to unwind Goodell’s decisions.
Then his specious claims in the Redskins nickname controversy, which suddenly seems quaint by comparison, were wrought from the same fundamental hubris.
Regarding the NFL’s personal-conduct policy that Goodell admitted Friday was inadequate and out of date, the canary in the mine was seen in 2012, when Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his baby mama, then shot himself in front of the Chiefs coach and general manager.
If the ooga horn doesn’t sound after a murder-suicide that orphans a child, when does it go off?
Apparently only now, after five separate domestic violence/child abuse cases come to light within months.
While no one with grounding in pro sports expected Goodell to be anything but a tool of the owners, as are all commissioners in every sport, he was given wide latitude because the owners, by their acceptance of Goodell’s power grab, demonstrated they wanted no part of messing with the tawdriness of disciplining large kids coming to great wealth and celebrity often from impoverished, violent circumstances.
The players union, which opposed Goodell’s one-man inquisition/guillotine operation in the most recent collective bargaining, is at least partly complicit because it gave in, in exchange for other concessions.
So Goodell set himself up to fail. Fail, he has – with the large exception of growing the immense wealth of the NFL. Then again, some will argue that given the popularity of the NFL with the gambling industry, SpongeBob SquarePants could have made the sport into a $10 billion annual operation.
One screwup Goodell owned up to Friday illuminated the rampant cluelessness of the Park Avenue operation. He agreed that allowing Ray Rice to bring his wife, Janay, victim of the Atlantic City, N.J., elevator clobbering that lit the domestic-violence conflagration, to a meeting with him was a mistake.
“Yes, it’s part of the learnings we had,” he said to a questioner. “There are certain proper ways to have those discussions when people are going through domestic violence situations.”
Wow. None among his coterie of minions had the knowledge and/or guts to help the bewildered commish? Just a guess here, Roger, but you might have consulted your wife.
Another Goodell shrug that left witnesses stupefied was his repeated references that the NFL is “almost completely reliant on law enforcement” for information regarding criminal cases. That would be breaking news to exactly every member of the private and public security networks that surround NFL teams, made up mostly of veterans of high-end intelligence-gathering agencies such as the Secret Service. They know the local cops on the inside, the crooks on the outside and many things going on among team members.
Ignorance, as Goodell told the 2012 Saints and their coach, Sean Payton, is no excuse.
The NFL’s security battalions are the people who head off situations before they become public. Perhaps Goodell prefers to rely upon TMZ, the notorious website that pays for information like the Rice video.
A reporter who claimed he represented TMZ asked Goodell about the Rice video, “We found out with one phone call. How come you couldn’t, with your legal department?”
“I can’t explain how you got your information,” Goodell said, offering his only smile of the afternoon.
Proud of his rejoinder, Goodell was snickering, even though he again evaded an answer. Yet Goodell dared to use the word “transparency” three or four times in describing the virtues of the plans he was setting in motion.
Then his press conference ended abruptly with longtime NFL spokesman Greg Aiello blurting, “All right. Thank you. We’re good.”
No, Greg. You’re not.
Not if, after nine days of silence from the commissioner’s office about the national controversy, that the 45 minutes (not including a 16-minute delay from the scheduled start) was the best the NFL can do.
I’d go no-huddle from here.
Goodell has made it this far by making it up as he goes. He did not bother to recuse himself from further involvement, nor did he sanction himself despite admitting Friday, “I got it wrong on a number of levels.” Any player under his jurisdiction who gets it wrong on a number of levels is suspended or fired.
“But now,” he said with the air of omniscience only an NFL commissioner can convey, “I will get it right.”
How would he know? He already told us not to take his word.