Oh, Roger, you still don’t get it.
After spending more than a week in seclusion while his NFL was battered by one domestic violence embarrassment after another, Commissioner Roger Goodell finally emerged Friday to hold a worthless news conference that essentially hit on these four key points:
— We got it wrong before.
— We’ll get it right from now on.
— Don’t ask about specifics.
— Now, enjoy the games!
After 45 minutes of sidestepping, all we learned is that the NFL will get back to us in 135 days on how it plans to deal with this scourge on the game.
Sorry, we need action now, not in 2015.
If there was ever a time for this robot of a man to show his human side, to step up and be a leader, it was now. Shed a tear for the victims. Give back part of his $44 million annual salary. Suspend himself for letting Ray Rice off far too easy after the former Ravens running back knocked his fiancee unconscious in a casino elevator.
Instead, Goodell lectured the media in a corporate monotone, his words filled with evasion and vague promises, his only real emotion sparked by a reporter who dared raise a very legitimate issue: Is an investigation by former FBI chief Robert Mueller into the league’s handling of the Rice case tainted by Mueller now being a partner in a law firm that has done extensive business on behalf of the NFL.
“You’re questioning the integrity of the director of the FBI,” Goodell said, showing a flash of defiance.
If only the commissioner had gotten that riled up back in February, when Rice was initially charged with assault and TMZ Sports released that first sickening video, the one that shows Rice callously dragging his now-wife’s motionless body out of the elevator.
Nearly five months later, Goodell finally weighed in on the case, handing the running back a ridiculously light two-game suspension. Less than two weeks ago, after public outrage and TMZ Sports airing another video from inside the elevator showing the actual punch, Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely.
“I believe in accountability,” Goodell said Friday. “I understand the challenge before me and I will be held accountable for meeting it.”
Apparently, the accountability clock doesn’t start now.
The commissioner made it clear he has no intention to quit and sounded very confident that he’s still got the support of most, if not all, the owners.
Not surprisingly, those who play the game — who’ve been told over and over again by Goodell and his minions that everyone must take responsibility for their actions — called out the commissioner for not applying that same standard to himself.
“What Roger just said is the exact same thing that players say when they make a mistake and plead their case,” Ravens receiver Torrey Smith tweeted.
Added Sidney Rice, who retired after playing for the Super Bowl champion Seahawks last season, “I know some people that got it wrong and don’t have a job anymore. Does this mean it’s OK to get it wrong?”
If nothing else, Goodell should’ve just stayed in hiding if he didn’t have anything more than what he gave up Friday. Unlike NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who quickly and forcefully removed Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling from the NBA after his racist remarks, the NFL’s top dog sounded like a wishy-washy politician.
His biggest revelation was the formation of a committee — yes, one of those dreaded committees — that will study ways to toughen the league’s personal conduct policy. If all goes according to plan, they’ll have their work done by the Super Bowl.
Otherwise, this news conference was nothing more than a game of dodgeball — with Goodell getting tagged over and over again.
While rightfully asserting that domestic violence is a complex issue with roots far beyond the NFL, Goodell sounded weak and indecisive as he pledged to bring in outside experts to help the league deal with this problem, as though it had just come to his attention.
“We’re moving in an important direction by getting expertise on how we can do it better,” he said. “We’re all having trouble dealing with this.”
Goodell bobbed and weaved like Muhammad Ali over the issue of why the league didn’t try harder to obtain a copy of the second tape showing Rice’s punch. He stumbled even when someone pointed out there was no electronic evidence of the NFL ever making such a request, not to mention an Associated Press report last week that a law enforcement official did, in fact, send the tape to the league several months ago. (Frankly, a police summons that stated Rice knocked out his then-fiancee with his hand should have been enough to throw the book at him — without any video).
Goodell stressed that any changes to the personal conduct policy must respect the due-process rights of the players, but he again offered no specifics about how to ensure that happens.
Hey, here’s an idea: If a player is charged with a violent crime, he is suspended with pay. If he is convicted, the suspension is extended without pay. If the case is overturned on appeal, the lost salary is returned.
Seriously, how hard would it have been for Goodell, who is supposedly a very wise man, to say something like that? Instead of “we need to understand how the NFL should get involved with particular situations with regards to law enforcement, with regards to the criminal justice system. State laws vary from state to state. What we’ve got to get is that consistency.”
Clearly, Roger, you still don’t get it.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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