It is evident—if it wasn't before the second domestic assault video involving Ray Rice and his then-fiancee Janay Palmer surfaced this week on TMZ—that Roger Goodell is in over his head as commissioner of the National Football League.
He is, simply put, a bad commissioner.
And yet no matter how many of us think his job should be on the line after this latest debacle, it's short-sighted to think Goodell's tenure as the face behind the Shield is coming to an end anytime soon.
Wanting Goodell gone and getting him gone are two very different things.
Goodell has always seemed overmatched by the scope of the job the league's owners handed him after years of loyal service standing on call to support the NFL, protected by the fact that the NFL has become the largest snowball rolling down the world's biggest hill.
There is nothing, was nothing nor will be nothing that can stop the cash cow that is professional football in America. Unless Goodell, himself, is that something.
Making Up the Rules
By systematically changing the scope and authority of the commissionership of the NFL to make himself judge, jury and NFL executioner, Goodell—and, for what it's worth, the NFL Executive Committee that has happily stood by since 2006 while Goodell does its dirty work—has brought this upon himself. All the ire, consternation and mistrust the fans have developed toward the NFL are because of Goodell's consistent tactics of handling delicate social matters with the same clenched fist he uses for matters of impropriety on the playing field.
Hit another player illegally in the preseason? You get a two-game suspension and a fine.
Hit your fiancee illegally in the offseason? You get a two-game suspension and a fine.
Well, unless you do it now, then you will get six games. Or more. It could be more. Only Goodell himself will get to decide that once he parses out the mitigating circumstances. Is the woman you hit pregnant? Was there a child nearby? Was your explanation about the circumstances surrounding your assault ambiguous? Is there video of your attack?
Is there a second video?
(If there is a second video, can you tell us now? Because it will save us all a lot of future embarrassment.)
Goodell has routinely made up the rules as he goes along despite saying just last month that the NFL "can't just make up the discipline" with regard to Rice's meager two-game suspension.
Goodell absolutely made up the rules as he went along this August, changing the entire policy on domestic violence for anyone associated with the league—from those who sweep the concourse to the ones who write the checks—to include the six-game minimum suspension for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second. And still, with the sterner penalties that were universally lauded by people clamoring for a harder stance taken against those in the NFL who commit heinous acts of domestic violence, Goodell did nothing more to Rice. There was no additional penalty the commissioner could levy on Rice, as people (now, wrongfully) assumed that double jeopardy would apply.
Goodell can't suspend a player twice for the same act, can he? Can he?
He can because he did. He can because he claims no one in the NFL offices saw the second video until it was posted on TMZ's website on Monday. He can because he expects us to believe that nobody under his jurisdiction saw that elevator video before it was shown to the public, and that seeing it was so horrifying he had no choice but to extend Rice's suspension for an indefinite term.
Goodell's biggest mistake in all of this was thinking that seeing the video should make a difference. That reading a police report that stated what happened isn't as bad as getting to watch it on closed-circuit. What did he think happened in the moments before Rice dragged her limp body out of the elevator? What mitigating circumstances was he imagining took place? Was it all just a case of patty-cake gone horribly wrong?
And still, it was all a bit "ambiguous" to Goodell until he saw the tape.
When did you first learn about this second tape?
(Monday) morning. I got into the office and our staff had come to me and said, 'There's new evidence. There's video that you need to see.' And I watched it then.
Did you know that a second tape existed?
We had not seen any videotape of what occurred in the elevator. We assumed that there was a video, we asked for video, but we were never granted that opportunity.
Stop. Let's stop there for a second. Goodell specifically ducks O'Donnell's question, choosing to state that they had not seen any videotape, not that the league did not know it existed.
He says they "assumed" there was a video, and they asked for it, but per his reply to her question, he does not indicate that they knew there was a video.
This is in direct contrast to what Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti wrote to his stakeholders on Tuesday, which read in part:
We contacted the casino management and asked if there was video of the incident from inside the elevator that we could see. The casino would not share such video. We asked the local New Jersey police and the police refused as well. We asked the prosecutor’s office and that office refused. It was our understanding at that time that Ray’s attorney had not yet seen the video. NFL officials had been informed, and we know they were also trying to retrieve and/or see the video.
So, the Ravens—an organization that publicly lauded Rice on their website, writing about how great of a person he is and publicizing the standing ovation he received upon his return to their stadium in the preseason—knew a second tape existed the entire time but failed to procure the tape. Bisciotti's letter admitted that after the case went through the legal process, the Ravens "stopped seeking to view or obtain a copy of the video. We halted our fact-finding. That was a mistake on our part."
The Ravens owner wrote to his stakeholders this week that he knew the police and prosecutor had seen the second video as far back as May. The commissioner told O'Donnell this week that the league "assumed" it existed but wasn't sure.
Someone is lying.
Whether Goodell himself or someone else in the NFL offices had seen the tape, someone is lying.
Chris Mortensen went on Mike & Mike in the Morning on July 25 and talked about there being a second tape, with sources relaying specific details of the attack, including Palmer's head hitting the handrail inside the elevator after Rice struck her in the face.
Mortensen did not claim to have seen the video. This was from a source.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated had a source that told him the league had a copy of the second tape. On July 29, King wrote that the league had seen the tape, a claim from which he vigorously backtracked this week.
Whether it saw the tape or not, the NFL knew in July, via several media reports, that a second tape existed and that media sources had seen its contents. Why didn't the NFL get the tape then? Why didn't its officials see it until TMZ posted it, as it claims? Let's let O'Donnell serve that question up to Goodell.
Did anyone in the NFL see the second videotape before Monday?
No one in the NFL?
No one in the NFL, to my knowledge, and I have asked that same question, and the answer to that is no. We were not granted that. We were told that was not something we would have access to. On multiple occasions, we asked for it. And on multiple occasions we were told no. I understand that there may be legal restrictions on them sharing that with us. And we've heard that from attorneys general and former attorneys general.
You know there are people saying they just don't buy that. That no one in the NFL has seen this tape.
Well, that's a fact. And I think it's a fact because the criminal justice system and law enforcement were following the laws and doing what they needed to do to make sure that they followed the criminal activity. This is an ongoing criminal investigation. And I think they were doing what they do. We are cooperative, we are supportive, we will ask for any pertinent information that we can have access to. But we can't force them to provide any information.
OK, let's stop again one more time. Sorry, I know, I'm getting to the point, but it's just too difficult to let this one slide without an immediate rebuttal.
The Rice situation was not an ongoing criminal investigation. In fact, the investigation took place over the winter, and Rice was accepted into a pretrial diversion program on May 20. He was not suspended by the league until late July. The investigation was long since over by the time Rice was suspended. Again, the commissioner is making up truths.
Back to the questions and answers from the CBS Evening News interview one last time:
How is that the NFL couldn't get their hands on the second tape, but a website called TMZ could?
Well, I don't know how TMZ or any other website gets their information. We are particularly reliant on law enforcement. That's the most reliable, it's the most credible and we don't seek to get that information from sources that are not credible.
Do you wish you had seen this videotape before it was released by TMZ?
Absolutely. (Why?) That's why we asked for it on several occasions. Because when we make a decision we want to have all the information that's available. And obviously that was the, that when we met with Ray Rice and his representatives, it was ambiguous about what actually happened.
If you believe any of that, commissioner Goodell has a bridge to sell you next.
Goodell claims he did not want to use noncredible sources, suggesting that the security department for a New Jersey casino would not be credible enough to contact. (Please remember that Bud Selig made a deal with a known drug dealer to catch Alex Rodriguez in a lie about taking steroids, but Goodell claims that going to a casino security office wasn't credible enough for his protocol.)
What's more—and this might be the most important part of this entire web of deceit and misdirection—the crime took place in New Jersey, the state that just hosted the Super Bowl. NFL security worked day after day with state police for nearly a year to get ready for the Super Bowl. You cannot in good conscience believe that the general public is that stupid to think the NFL doesn't have at least one contact within the New Jersey State Police that could get a copy of a tape from a casino elevator less than a month after the Super Bowl.
Stonewalled by police, were you, Mr. Commissioner? There's a guy in Trenton who would have been more than happy to help, I'm sure.
You can't tell me if Roger Goodell really wanted to get his hands on the Ray Rice tape he couldn't have made one phone call to Governor Chris Christie—the same governor, it should be noted, who promised New Jersey state tax revenue to the Revel casino in order to build the recently defunct property—who could have easily gotten him the video. There are literally hundreds of credible people who could have gotten Goodell the video if he really wanted it.
Goodell's biggest offense in all of this might be that he was naive enough to think the second video would not get out, and that this hackneyed spin of "we tried" would fly with NFL fans.
With Revel closed and thousands of people out of jobs, someone was bound to cash in on a smoking-gun video like this. TMZ was the benefactor, and Goodell is left holding the bag.
One Stumble After Another
There is a long list of mistakes and miscalculations Goodell has stewarded as the head of the most lucrative sports league in America.
He was so heavy-handed with the Bountygate suspensions that his former boss, Paul Tagliabue, had to come in and try to clean up his mess.
His handling of the backlash to get the Washington Redskins to change their name has been as culturally tone-deaf as almost anything anyone could possibly do.
Almost. There's that whole treatment of women thing we shouldn't forget.
A recent report posted on the Deadspin platform claims that Goodell has presided over 56 instances of domestic violence by players since he took over as commissioner and, before Rice's indefinite suspension, just 13 total games were levied as punishment. Of the 56 instances, 10 players were released, some of whom ended up signing with other teams after their release.
Goodell can't just make up the rules. But he has, and he continues to, so now he has to live with them.
There are just too many indications that the league had the ability to see the video well in advance of TMZ's publication to think Goodell is telling the truth. When I spoke with a source who is familiar with both Atlantic County law enforcement and staff at Revel about how hard it would have been to obtain a copy of that video, I was told "not very hard. I'm sure I could have seen it if I asked."
Roger Goodell says he asked. The NFL, with a multi-billion-dollar annual budget and its own security and investigative branch that was specifically installed under his command to help in determining proper punishment independent of law enforcement, says it asked.
That makes one thing perfectly clear. Goodell is either a liar or he's incompetent. I'm not sure which is worse.
Will He Be Fired?
If he's merely incompetent, he should probably be removed from his job for his own good. In fact, the NFL Bylaws contain a clause that specifically states:
In the event that the Commissioner…shall fail or refuse to abide by the Constitution and Bylaws of the League, and the Executive Committee finds that such action by such officer is detrimental to the best interests of the League, or in the event the Commissioner fails or is unwilling to perform his duties, then such Committee shall have the power after notice and hearing to suspend or remove said officer.
What, in this situation, was in the best interest of the league?
If it turns out Goodell lied to reporters about having seen the video, that should be grounds for suspension or removal. If it turns out he's just an incompetent leader, and the NFL has succeeded in spite of his stewardship, then grounds for removal are there as well.
If it's just the media clamoring for his ouster, he's Teflon.
Goodell won't cater to us now, especially not when his back is against the wall. All the women's organizations in America can call for his resignation or firing, but neither will happen as long as the money keeps rolling in.
The Buffalo Bills are being sold for as much as $1.4 billion, which is $400 million more than the Browns were sold for in 2012 and $300 million more than the Dolphins and their stadium went for just five years ago. Television revenue is at an all-time high, and the ratings for games are as good as ever.
Even with the NFL and NFLPA's mismanagement of a labor dispute that created a lockout a few years ago—under Goodell's watch—and ongoing litigation from former players about health benefits, pensions and general player safety, the NFL feels genuinely stronger than it's been in decades. Even with all the mess swarming the NFL since Goodell has taken over, the game is more popular than ever.
Does Goodell deserve credit for that, or just less of the blame for everything else?
We can pound our desks and scream into our microphones that Goodell should be fired. But he probably won't be, for two simple reasons. First, he's making the owners money. And second, look at who owns some of these teams.
It's amazing any of us can stomach lining their pockets. But we love the game, and all that comes with it—even if that includes a commissioner who has proved to be beyond his depth.