PHOENIX — Roger Goodell stood at a podium in the Phoenix Convention Center, addressing the thousands of media members on hand to cover Sunday’s game and countless others watching at home, on the current state of the NFL.
There was a lot to talk about. Yeah, sure, there’s a football game Sunday — a pretty big one in fact, between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks — but at times it feels like the actual games have been a footnote to the off-field drama.
The season opened with the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson scandals and came to a close with stories about Saints pass rusher Junior Galette being arrested on allegations of domestic abuse, the Saints’ ownership drama and allegations that the Patriots illegally deflated footballs during the AFC title game.
So much has happened this season, people would have flocked to the desert to hear Goodell speak even without the allure of a game. So, naturally, he took the podium and spoke about how the league will look to change extra points, expand replay and look into finding a way to stream games online. Sure, there also was a mention of the Patriots scandal in his opening statements, but it was only to let people know he has nothing new to say.
There were so many topics to cover during the news conference that just one question about the Saints ownership situation snuck in at the very end. There was no mention of Peterson, who has an uncertain future. It also wouldn’t have been out of line if the murder trial of Aaron Hernandez was broached, considering his former team is playing in the Super Bowl and he continues to be a cautionary tale.
But this is Roger Goodell’s NFL. It’s a league where there are so many issues to sort through that there isn’t sufficient time to ask about some of the larger ones — even if those forgotten issues are things like the futures of alleged child abusers and murderers.
As Goodell took the podium, my mind began to wonder how he remains in his position. The outrage over the Ray Rice scandal came and went as soon as there was another issue for the media’s hive mind to swarm toward. But the particulars of that case should not be forgotten.
The fact remains that the league failed to obtain a seemingly readily available video of the former Baltimore Ravens running back striking his then-fiancée in an Atlantic City elevator before levying an initial suspension that was extended.
Fast-forward a few months, and the league already has reportedly obtained video from inside Gillette Stadium of a team employee carrying a bag of footballs into a bathroom before emerging 90 seconds later. This is a crime that typically carries a $25,000 fine, per the collective bargaining agreement.
Priorities. Maybe we should celebrate the league office for its growth. When the season started, the league didn’t even know how to request a video. Now it’s able to make requests and obtain the video in the matter of days.
But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. This is Roger Goodell’s NFL. It’s a world where coaches are suspended for a year and told “ignorance is not an excuse” when ignorance is always an excuse for the league office.
As a fan of the game, these issues are bothersome. It’s not only that they exist. The league employees some 3,000 people, so embarrassing, awful things are bound to happen at some point. What’s bothersome is that a man paid $44 million to oversee the game and protect its integrity so often gets things wrong.
When was the last time you thought to yourself, “The NFL got that one right”? It doesn’t happen. Ever.
Just look at how the league is handling the Patriots scandal. The details on what actually happened are still murky, but the generally accepted storyline is that the league was aware something was going on with New England’s footballs and set out to catch them in the act.
If this theory is true — and there’s no guarantee it is — the NFL allowed the first half of the AFC title game to potentially be played with illegal equipment. The balls were weighed at halftime and replaced with properly inflated footballs.
Why warn the teams to keep balls properly inflated and ensure the second-most important game of the year is played on a level playing field when you can try to catch a team with its hand in the cookie jar and then deal with ensuing leaks of information that might upstage the Super Bowl?
There was one question asked Friday that could have determined whether the league let this happen to try to nail the Patriots: Is it common practice for the balls to be checked at halftime?
Surprise: Goodell doesn’t know or isn’t saying. We’ll have to wait until one of the guys he pays to investigate the league and its teams when a big scandal occurs finds out the answer.
Avoid the gymnastics. The commissioner says no conflicts of interest exist in these investigations. The investigators have too much integrity for that to happen. Trust him.
And, really, there’s no choice. This is Roger Goodell’s NFL. Even when he’s not the judge and jury, he’s writing checks to the judge and jury.