You hoped for something different, but in these kind of settings, Roger Goodell has always been a master of empty words. His annual state-of-the-NFL address press conference, at the Super Bowl, is always worth skipping. Things got moved up a bit this year, thanks to the heat Goodell has faced over the NFL’s handling of recent domestic abuse cases. And the main takeaway from Goodell’s frantically awaited press conference Friday—which was only held after Goodell’s nine-day silence in the midst of the NFL’s worst PR worst crisis in years became utterly indefensible—was that a committee would figure things out.
Ah yes, the committee, the task force, the best way to buy time. The committee itself won’t even be in place, probably, until right before the Super Bowl. That committee, Goodell said, would re-write the NFL’s personal conduct policy—which he himself instituted after becoming commissioner in 2007. Everything is on the table, Goodell said. Maybe he’ll give up some of the judge and jury power the owners granted him, after they wanted to punish misbehaving players to clean up the NFL’s image. And ironically, that very same policy—because of the maddening inconsistencies in its execution—is tarnishing it.
Yes, the NFL’s funding of the domestic violence hotline, as one example, is going to help a lot of people. That shouldn’t be taken lightly. But why now? If the NFL really cared about domestic violence, this kind of donation would have been made years ago. But no, it comes only after a horrifying tape of a star running back punching a woman becomes public. So you can’t talk about getting it right, about being a societal leader, when such moves, though noble and important, are a response. When they’re defense. The NFL can’t hold itself as a “microcosm of society,” as Goodell said, when most of society isn’t bashing heads every week. The league did the same things with concussions, and funded research and restricted return-to-play only after the league was being sued. Heads have been banging together for years. Why now?
Goodell promised transparency and accountability, but punted the most sensitive Ray Rice questions over to the “independent” investigation former FBI head Robert Mueller will lead to figure out who knew what and when. If the personal conduct policy is going to be reworked, it needs to be codified. What exactly triggers punishment? An arrest? An indictment? A conviction?
Tune in after the Super Bowl. In the meantime, tune in Sunday, as so many people surely will. No amount of bad press has stopped the NFL’s financial windfalls. No committee is needed for that.