When Roger Goodell stepped to the microphone in a midtown Manhattan hotel Friday afternoon to discuss the NFL’s miserable past few weeks, that was his basic explanation for how the league has found itself in a crisis on a variety of fronts. Goodell used the term ‘mistake’ on at least a half dozen occasions, and nothing about what he had to say inspired the slightest bit of confidence that the man who led the NFL to today is the right one to lead the NFL through today.
Goodell was providing an update on how the league has handled the recent outbreak of domestic violence incidents, as familiar names such as Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, Jonathan Dwyer, and Ray McDonald have made off-field headlines in the last month alone. The commissioner spoke about four main topics: the independent investigation into the league’s handling of the Rice incident (which is being headed up by former FBI director Robert Mueller), how the NFL can create positive change going forward (including education and training for its employees/players), a pair of new long-term partnerships with advocacy organizations (the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center), and a needed overhaul of the league’s personal conduct policy.
As Goodell said in his opening statement, “At our best the NFL sets an example that makes a positive difference. Unfortunately, after the past several weeks, we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong.” And really, no matter what answers Goodell tried to provide in this setting Friday, it’s hard to get past the last part of that phrase, ‘The NFL doing wrong.’ The commissioner can repeatedly trumpet the mantra that he’s been on top of this since August 28 and the NFL is going to get its house in order as many times as he wants — and he did stick to that party line over and over again Friday — but the fact remains: Goodell’s league — and Goodell himself — screwed up.
“I said this before, back on August 28, and I say it again now: I got it wrong on the handling of the Ray Rice matter and I’m sorry for that. I got it wrong on a number of levels, from the process that I led to the decision that I reached. But now I will get it right…”
That’s all well and good, but Goodell’s apology is missing one important ingredient — consequences. If the commissioner drops the ball so completely on something this important, is ‘I’m sorry’ good enough?
We can’t help but imagine a scene that could have played out many times over in the NFL offices on Park Avenue over the last however many years: Goodell looking an owner, coach, or player in the eye and preparing to hand down punishment. When the alleged violator has a chance to plead his case, if the explanation starts with ‘I let myself down, I let everyone down’ and finishes with ‘Mistakes happen. I’m sorry.’, would that attitude of remorse be enough to change the verdict? Will the guilty employee, the one who messed up, get a second chance with no questions asked? Or are they going to be sidelined for the foreseeable future, if not longer? Some players came out in the open expressing the same sentiment:
What Roger just said is the exact same thing that players say when they make a mistake and plead their case
— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) September 19, 2014
Everyone knows the answer, because that scenario is a familiar one. When someone associated with the league makes a mistake and disappoints the NFL, it doesn’t matter if they promise to make it right or not. The damage is done, and it’s Roger Goodell himself who will assign the wrongdoer their punishment. So, with the NFL mired in a massive mess (in large part of its own making), why does the same Goodell who usually plays judge and jury think it’s okay for him to just keep plugging along day after day, doing his job, with no concern or answer about his own fate?
“I understand when people are critical of your performance, but we have a lot of work to do,” the commissioner said when asked if he has considered resigning. “We’ve been busy in the last couple of weeks…”
Yes, things are busy for the NFL right now. Yes, there’s a lot of work to do. It’s easy to agree with Goodell’s assessment on both those fronts.
But it’s not so easy to agree that he should be the man doing the job. Goodell made the mess — he’s admitted as much — now it’s time to let someone else clean it up. Whether it’s a temporary or permanent solution, right now, the league needs someone besides Goodell in charge with its reputation at stake. Friday’s press conference (and the repeated recitation of just how thoroughly the league didn’t live up to standards — its own and everyone else’s — made that clear. With the NFL’s history of disciplining those associated with the league for (in many cases) the slightest misstep, letting Roger Goodell continue in his current position with no repercussions for his mistake would be…well…a mistake.