TIME society

Dear Police Unions: Please Stop Asking Jocks To Apologize

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns
Andrew Hawkins #16 of the Cleveland Browns walks onto the field while wearing a protest shirt during introductions prior to the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on Dec. 14, 2014 in Cleveland. Joe Robbins—Getty Images

Sean Gregory is a TIME senior writer who has covered sports extensively over the last decade.

NFL players have taken stands against the deaths of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, and been criticized by police unions. But why shouldn't athletes take a stand?

On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a t-shirt that said “Justice For Tamir Rice And John Crawford III.” Rice, a 12-year-old, was shot by a Cleveland police officer in a park last month; the boy had been carrying a toy gun. Crawford was shot by police in in Beavercreek, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton, while holding an air rifle in a Walmart this summer; a grand jury did not indict any officers.

“It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law,” Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland police union, wrote in a statement to a local TV station. “They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology.”

Neither the Browns nor Hawkins said “I’m sorry.”

On November 30, five St. Louis Rams players made the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose during game introductions, in support of Michael Brown and Ferguson protestors. The St. Louis police union was similarly peeved. It released a statement saying the officers were “profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.” The union called for player discipline and “a very public apology” from the NFL and the Rams. Although the police organization and the Rams debated whether private correspondence between a team official and the union qualified as an apology, the team publicly stood by its players.

Public opinion has moved against police officers. Some misguided people are painting them with a broad brush, saying all cops are bad. As the son of a retired New York City police sergeant, I strongly disagree with this sentiment. That’s why I’m asking police unions to please stop belittling professional athletes.

These apology demands come off as defensive. They don’t help public perception; they don’t help the tense relationship between law enforcement and many communities. These athletes aren’t painting all cops as racists. They are exercising a right to free speech. The right to believe that a 12-year-old boy should not have been shot. To believe that an unarmed Michael Brown did not deserve to die. Sure, officer Darren Wilson said Brown never raised his hands to surrender. A few witnesses said he did. The St. Louis Rams have a right to believe the witnesses.

And why single out athletes for reprimand? Unions don’t seem to be firing out angry letters to peaceful protestors. To be fair, not every union is singling out athletes. Before a December 8 game in Brooklyn, NBA stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, and other players wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts in warmups, to protest the death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after an officer put him in a chokehold. He uttered “I can’t breathe” before he died; a grand jury acquitted the officer. The New York police union did not publicly blast the players.

And official police department representatives generally have been much more measured. Cleveland Division of Police Chief Calvin D. Williams said on Tuesday: “The Division of Police respects the rights of individuals to peacefully demonstrate their personal views and opinions. Mr. Hawkins was certainly well within his rights to express his views and no apology is necessary.”

Yes, athletes have a larger platform than the average dissenter to spread a message. But if you don’t agree with the message, that doesn’t mean you go after them. Jocks have a first amendment right not to stick to sports. Why should law enforcement chastise law-abiding athletes?

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Football

San Francisco 49ers Release Ray McDonald Over Behavior ‘Pattern’

Ray McDonald at a game between San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sep. 21, 2014.
Ray McDonald at a game between San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sep. 21, 2014. John Biever—Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

McDonald is being investigated for a possible sexual assault

San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke announced Wednesday that the team has released defensive tackle Ray McDonald.

Baalke said the decision to cut McDonald was due to a “pattern” of behavior by the player.

Earlier Wednesday, the San Jose Police Department announced that McDonald is being investigated for a possible sexual assault. McDonald’s house was served with a search warrant on Tuesday night after the department received a call from a local hospital regarding the alleged victim, who was receiving treatment. No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.

“We certainly believe in due process, and have demonstrated that over time. But when it becomes a pattern of poor decision making, which it has in this case, it becomes a time it leaves you with no other choice than the one we made today,” Baalke said.​

McDonald, 30, spent eight seasons in San Francisco after being drafted in the third round in 2007.

He made 68 starts for the 49ers and has 210 tackles, 19.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries in his career. The veteran started all 14 games to date this season and had 39 tackles and three sacks.

Last month, McDonald was cleared after an investigation into an alleged domestic violence incident at his home. He was arrested on Aug. 31 on suspicion of felony domestic violence, and after the investigation, the district attorney said it did not find sufficient evidence to press charges and characterized it as a “physical struggle between two parties, each party blaming the other.”

In September, police revealed an earlier incident that occurred at the home of McDonald and his fiancée. In May, police had been called to the home due to a dispute between a man and a woman in which the woman eventually pulled a gun on the man.

McDonald continued to play throughout his investigation for domestic violence, as 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and CEO Jed York both said they would not discipline McDonald until there were further developments in his case.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME NFL

Adrian Peterson, NFL Exec Discuss Suspension on Leaked Tape

Suspended Minnesota Vikings running back Peterson exits following his hearing against the NFL over his punishment for child abuse, in New York
Suspended Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (L) exits following his hearing against the NFL over his punishment for child abuse, in New York City on Dec. 2, 2014. Brendan McDermid—Reuters

Peterson was charged with a felony after being accused of hitting his four-year-old son with a switch

The NFL’s executive vice president for football operations Troy Vincent appeared to tell Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson that he would only be suspended for two games, according to recordings of their conversation obtained by ABC News.

Peterson appeared to call Vincent in order to determine whether his time served on the Commissioner’s/Exempt List — when the running back was suspended with pay — would factor in the NFL’s sentencing. Peterson was suspended without pay for the rest of the season last month. His appeal was denied on Friday, and he will not be considered for reinstatement until April 15. On Monday, the NFLPA filed a lawsuit challenging the NFL’s Peterson decision, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

Earlier this season, Peterson was placed on the Commissioner’s List when he was charged with a felony after being accused of hitting his four-year-old son with a switch. In court, Peterson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault. He was fined $4,000 and ordered to perform 80 hours of community service.

In the Nov. 12 conversation between Peterson and Vincent, the NFL executive appears to tell Peterson that his time served on the Commissioner’s List will count toward his suspension. Peterson’s legal team has been claiming the NFL promised the running back that he would only receive a two-game suspension.

McCANN: Exploring Adrian Peterson’s legal options following failed appeal

In the recording, Peterson asks Vincent whether he will get a two-game suspension.

Vincent replies, “Yeah.”

Peterson: “It will be two additional games — not time served?”

Vincent: “No, no, no, no, no, no. It won’t..the one this weekend. So really it’s next weekend. You will be back.”

Peterson, a six-time Pro Bowler, has missed all but one of the team’s games this season.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Football

Players File Lawsuit Against NFL Over Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson Hearing
NFL running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings addresses the media after pleading "no contest" to a lesser misdemeanor charge of reckless assault Nov. 4, 2014 in Conroe, Texas. Bob Levey—Getty Images

NFL Players Association argues against NFL's decision to suspend the Vikings running back

The NFL Players Association has filed a lawsuit on behalf of suspended Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson against the NFL in federal court in Minneapolis, MN, on Monday morning, according to a release from the NFLPA.

The NFLPA’s intention to file suit was reported by Tom Pelissero of USA TODAY Sports on Sunday evening.

The suit is expected to challenge the impartiality of Harold Henderson, who upheld NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s suspension of Peterson on Friday. Henderson, a former league employee for nearly two decades, called Peterson’s domestic abuse case “arguably one of the most egregious cases of domestic violence” under Goodell’s nine-year tenure as commissioner.

Peterson was suspended for the season in November after he was indicted on felony charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child in September. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault on Nov. 4 after authorities claimed he hit his 4-year-old son with a switch.

Peterson cannot be reinstated before April 15, 2015.

After Henderson’s decision was handed down, the NFLPA responded in a statement:

The NFLPA expected this outcome, given the hearing officer’s relationship and financial ties to the NFL. The decision itself ignores the facts, the evidence and the collective bargaining agreement. This decision also represents the NFL’s repeated failure to adhere to due process and confirms its inconsistent treatment of players. Our union is considering immediate legal remedies.

At the hearing last week, the union argued that Peterson was punished retroactively under Goodell’s changes to the personal conduct policy in August. It also said Peterson was subjected to a “new and obfuscated disciplinary process,” according to USA TODAY.

Henderson rejected those claims in his ruling:

I conclude that the player has not demonstrated that the process and procedures surrounding his discipline were not fair and consistent; he was afforded all the protections and rights to which he is entitled, and I find no basis to vacate or reduce the discipline.

Henderson also echoed Goodell’s claims in a letter to Peterson that the Vikings star failed to “reflect remorse or appreciation for the seriousness of his actions.”

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: December 15

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Sydney in Lockdown Amid Developing Hostage Crisis

Heavily armed police fanned out across downtown Sydney on Monday after an unidentified man took an undisclosed number of people hostage at a café in the central business district of Australia’s largest city. Five hostages fled the premises in the afternoon

Meet the Sony Exec Tied Up in the Worst Corporate Hack Ever

The Co-Chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment has been the executive behind successful movies like Skyfall and Zero Dark Thirty

Dick Cheney on CIA Interrogations Order: ‘I’d Do It Again in a Minute’

Former Vice President Dick Cheney fiercely defended the CIA’s brutal, post-9/11 interrogation tactics in an interview

Johnny Manziel Stumbles During Debut Start for Browns

Manziel looked overwhelmed and frustrated in Sunday’s 30-0 loss, throwing several passes too high and finishing with 10 completions in 18 attempts for 80 passing yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and three sacks

Japan’s Ruling Coalition Wins Big in Elections

Japan’s ruling coalition, the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, won a resounding victory in lower house elections, firming up Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hold on power as he prepares to push forward on several politically difficult fronts

Bill Cosby Briefly Breaks His Silence

The actor and comedian accused of drugging and/or sexually assaulting more than a dozen women briefly explained why hasn’t responded to the claims, saying his lawyers “don’t want me talking to the media”

R&B Icon D’Angelo Releases His First Album in 14 Years

D’Angelo’s first album in 14 years is impressively timely, unveiled as it was at a New York City listening session one day after an estimated 25,000 people in the same city protested police brutality against unarmed black citizens. Black Messiah came out at midnight

One of the World’s 6 Northern White Rhinos Has Died

The world has only five northern white rhinos left, after the sixth, Angalifu, died at the San Diego Zoo on Sunday. He was 44 and zoo officials said he had been refusing food for a week. Decades of wide-scale poaching have driven the rhinos to the brink of extinction

Deal Salvaged at U.N. Climate Talks in Peru

A compromise deal salvaged by climate negotiators in Lima early Sunday sets the stage for a global pact in Paris next year, but a consensus could not be reached on nations submitting to a rigorous review of their plans for greenhouse gas emissions limits

Newtown Mom Decries Gun Violence on Anniversary

The mother of a first-grader killed in the Newtown school shooting rampage spoke out against gun violence on the second anniversary of the massacre, saying it has broken the hearts of other mothers across the country

Exodus Dethrones Mockingjay to Win Weekend Box Office

Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, which tells the Old Testament story of Moses and features Christian Bale, earned $24.5 million to unseat The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 for the top spot at the American box office

Suspect Arrested in Death of Auburn Football Player

A suspect in the early morning shooting death of an Auburn University football player was arrested, police said. Markale Deandra Hart, 22, was charged with murder in connection with the death of Mitchell, who was found dead at an apartment near campus

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TIME NFL

Johnny Manziel Stumbles Early, Often in Less Than Spectacular Debut Start

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel rolls out during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on Dec. 14, 2014 Joe Maiorana—USA Today Sports/ Reuters

“He played like a rookie, and looked like a rookie”

Let’s be clear about one thing amid all the infernally hot takes regarding the first NFL start of Johnny Manziel: A bad start to an NFL career doesn’t really mean much. For every quarterback who has started hot only to flame out just as quickly, there’s a quarterback who threw up all over himself to start his career and then went on to do great things.

That said, Manziel’s performance against the Cincinnati Bengals was not one that will have tongues wagging about his future — at least, not in a positive sense. Manziel looked overwhelmed and frustrated more often than not in Sunday’s 30-0 loss, throwing several passes too high and finishing with 10 completions in 18 attempts for 80 passing yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and three sacks. Cincinnati’s defense, which had been exploited by the legs of Carolina’s Cam Newton in a 37-37 Week 6 tie, shut Manziel down in the Bengals’ second matchup against a truly mobile quarterback this season. Manziel ran five times for 13 yards, and most of them were scrambles as opposed to designed runs.

“He didn’t play well,” Browns head coach Mike Pettine said after the game. “He played like a rookie, and looked like a rookie.”

Not that it was all Manziel’s fault. The Browns managed only 53 rushing yards on 17 attempts and had just 38 total plays. Cleveland’s defense, which had kept the team afloat while Brian Hoyer had been dealing with his own struggles under center, gave up 244 yards on the ground on 45 carries and allowed rookie Jeremy Hill to run wild for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 25 attempts. Andy Daltonwasn’t too great himself, completing 14-of-24 passes for 117 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, but the Bengals were firing on all other cylinders, while the Browns were decidedly not.

Myriad quarterback issues aside, it may be time to concede that the Browns aren’t a very good team, that their 7-7 record is about as positive a result as could be expected, and it’s time to let either Manziel or Hoyer take their lumps while a foundation is built around them. There’s a great deal of talent in Cleveland, from the offensive line to the backfield to the defense, but this is a team that is struggling to hold it together consistently. What Pettine must do now is avoid the quarterback back-and-forth he’s engaged in of late. He’s seen Hoyer become ineffective, and he’s seen Manziel take his lumps. The question going forward is whether the Browns will let Manziel try to unlock his higher upside or give the ball back to Hoyer and hope that experience trumps the veteran’s obvious limitations.

What we do know is that Manziel didn’t make anyone’s job easier with this performance. Including his own. Pettine said after the game that Manziel will get to start the rest of the way this season, but we’ll see how the vagaries of the position play out.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME NFL

What Next for Suspended NFL Star Adrian Peterson?

Adrian Peterson Hearing
NFL running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings addresses the media after pleading "no contest" to a lesser misdemeanor charge of reckless assault on Nov. 4, 2014 in Conroe, Texas. Bob Levey—Getty Images

A look at where the Minnesota Vikings running back stands with his team and the league

An arbitrator denied Adrian Peterson‘s appeal of a season-long suspension, the latest chapter in what feels like a never ending saga surrounding the league’s former MVP.

“The facts in this appeal are uncontested,” arbitrator Harold Henderson wrote. “The player entered a plea which effectively admitted guilt to a criminal charge of child abuse, after inflicting serious injuries to his four-year old son in the course of administering discipline. No direct evidence of the beating was entered in the record here, but numerous court documents, investigative reports, photographs and news reports, all accepted into evidence without objection, make it clear that Mr. Peterson’s conduct was egregious and aggravated as those terms are used in the Policy, and merits substantial discipline. … I reject the argument that placement in Commissioner Exempt status is discipline. I conclude that the player has not demonstrated that the process and procedures surrounding his discipline were not fair and consistent; he was afforded all the protections and rights to which he is entitled, and I find no basis to vacate or reduce the discipline.”

The Vikings placed Peterson on the exempt list after he was charged with child abuse in Texas. He later entered a no-contest plea in exchange for avoiding jail time. Peterson was fined and ordered to complete community service.

Peterson then lingered on that exempt list — still paid by the Vikings but unable to play — until Nov. 18, when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for the remainder of 2014 and announced that the running back’s status would not be revisited until April 15, 2015. That six-game penalty could roll into next season, with Weeks 15-17 of this year and Weeks 1-3 of next year counting as the punishment.

Peterson appealed in hopes of returning to the field (or at least to the Vikings’ active payroll) sooner. After Friday’s decision, Peterson reportedly will take his appeal to federal court.

Where does he stand in the meantime with the Vikings and the league? A closer look at those issues:

Current status: As mentioned above, Peterson had been on the exempt list prior to Goodell’s ruling. While there, he had earned a prorated portion of the $11.25 million salary Minnesota owed him for the 2014 season. His permanent move now to an NFL-mandated suspension means that Peterson will forfeit his salary for the final three weeks of the year.

Goodell could opt to reinstate Peterson for the beginning of the 2015 season, essentially crediting him with time served. The commissioner will not have to make that decision until April, barring a ruling in favor of Peterson from federal court.

Contract: Peterson remains under contract in Minnesota through 2017, and he is still owed upward of $43 million in total, including $12.75 million next season.

The key for the Vikings at this point, though, is that the guaranteed money on Peterson’s deal has been paid already. What that means is Minnesota could release him at the end of the 2014 season and owe him no further money.

In other words, from a financial standpoint, the Vikings could part ways with Peterson rather easily. Which leads us to …

What happens in Minnesota?: The simplest solution for all parties would be for the Vikings to cut bait on Peterson after the league year ends. He could secure a fresh start elsewhere, while the Vikings could move forward with an extra $11.75 million next season.

Two alternatives: 1. The Vikings opt to hold onto Peterson, perhaps asking him to restructure his contract in light of how this season unfolded. He did make more than $7 million while playing one game, after all.

Or, 2. The Vikings could attempt to trade him. His cap hit and still-intact suspension would be roadblocks, but in similar fashion to the Jets‘ trade for Percy Harvin, any interested team could bail with no cap penalty.

Odds are that Peterson has played his last game as a Viking, one way or another.

Would another team give him a shot?: Short answer: yes.

Though he will have gone 12 months between games by the time he can take the field again, Peterson remained one of the league’s most exciting backs pre-suspension. The year off actually could work in his favor from a football sense. It’s 15-18 less games of tread worn off his tires.

If the Vikings release Peterson, his contract would be wiped off the books, so his next team could start from scratch with a much cheaper deal.

Peterson earlier expressed some interest in playing for Dallas. Could Jerry Jones give him a chance if DeMarco Murray walks in free agency?

That may be the most obvious fit right now, but other teams no doubt will give Peterson consideration.

This article was originally published on SI.com

TIME Football

Darren Sharper Indicted on Rape Charges in New Orleans

Former professional football player Darren Sharper appears for his arraignment in Los Angeles, Ca on Feb. 20, 2014
Former professional football player Darren Sharper appears for his arraignment in Los Angeles, Ca on Feb. 20, 2014 Mario Anzuoni—Reuters

Former NFL star Darren Sharper was indicted Friday in New Orleans on three rape charges

Former Saints safety Darren Sharper has been indicted in New Orleans on two counts of aggravated rape and a count of simple rape, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office announced Friday.

The two counts of aggravated rape stem from an accusation that he sexually assaulted two impaired women at his apartment in September 2013. The simple rape charge comes from a separate incident with a different woman in August 2013.

Another man, Erik Nunez, was also charged with two counts of aggravated rape for his involvement with the woman, while Sharper’s friend Brandon Licciardi was indicted on a charge of aggravated rape from February 2013.

Sharper was jailed in California in February on charges that he drugged and raped two women he met at a West Hollywood nightclub. He was also charged with sexually assaulting two women in Arizona.

A preliminary hearing for his charges in Los Angeles was recently delayed and is expected to be moved to January.

If convicted in New Orleans, Sharper could face a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME

Roger Goodell’s Worst Words

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looks on as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft speaks at an NFL press conference announcing new measures for the league's personal conduct policy during an owners meeting on Dec. 10, 2014, in Irving, Texas.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looks on as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft speaks at an NFL press conference announcing new measures for the league's personal conduct policy during an owners meeting on Dec. 10, 2014, in Irving, Texas. Brandon Wade—AP

TIME's Sean Gregory weighs in on a troubling September memo the NFL commissioner

Second, on multiple occasions, we asked the proper law enforcement authorities to share with us all relevant information, including any video of the incident. Those requests were made to different law enforcement entities, including the New Jersey State Police, the Atlantic City Police Department, the Atlantic County Police Department and the Atlantic County Solicitor’s Office. The requests were first made in February following the incident, and were again made following Mr. Rice’s entry into the pre-trial diversion program. None of the law enforcement entities we approached was permitted to provide any video or other investigatory material to us. As is customary in disciplinary cases, the suspension imposed on Mr. Rice in July was based on the information available to us at that time.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote this paragraph in a Sept. 10 memo to NFL owners and team presidents, which explained his investigative process in the Ray Rice incident. Two days earlier, TMZ.com published video of Rice knocking out his then-fiancée in an elevator of an Atlantic City casino. Goodell then suspended Rice indefinitely.

These are troubling words, because ESPN reported Wednesday that the transcript of Rice’s appeals healing — a judge lifted his suspension last week — shows that they’re very likely not true. According ESPN, the NFL’s lead investigator into the Rice incident told the league’s head of security, in an email, that “again, I never spoke to anyone at the casino or the police department about the tape.” At the end of the email chain, he wrote, “I never contacted anyone about the tape.”

The takeaways seem pretty clear: Either Goodell was frighteningly incompetent here, or he distorted the truth in that memo. For him — or his staff — to sit down and compose a letter saying the NFL asked for the tape, while the head of the Rice investigation is saying the exact opposite, is startling. This wasn’t Goodell misspeaking at a press conference or in an off-the-cuff moment. These words were prepared, and had to be vetted and fact-checked for accuracy.

So was Goodell lying, or is the paragraph just bumbling? Goodell seems to lean toward the latter: In the Rice hearing, when a lawyer informs Goodell of the emails, the commissioner responds: “I wasn’t aware of the fact that they tried to get it from law enforcement.” Really? So amidst the most intense public scrutiny the NFL has ever seen, Goodell sent out a letter to his bosses without asking the head of the Rice investigation if it was indeed accurate? Or did the head of the Rice investigation, Jim Buckley, and the recipient of the email, NFL chief security officer Jeffrey B. Miller, not tell Goodell that Miller hadn’t asked for the tape? Or did the NFL fudge the truth to seem like it had followed basic investigative protocol?

No matter what, it’s a head-scratching mess. This exchange is not unrelated to the NFL’s announcement earlier on Wednesday that an investigator, not Goodell, would be in charge of initial disciplinary proceedings under the league’s revamped personal conduct policy. (Though Goodell can remain involved in the appeals process). At the very least, Goodell clearly needs to get out of the judge and jury role. The owners have stuck by him through this crisis. How long will their patience last?

TIME

Why So Serious, Roger Goodell?

Jack Dickey is a reporter for TIME focused on culture and sports. He is also a contributor to Sports Illustrated.

The shallow and spineless posturing of the NFL commissioner

On Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell proposed to owners a tougher personal conduct policy for the league’s players. And the owners accepted: the new policy, the league said, will “embrace” independent investigations of player conduct off the field. In order to herald the coming change, Goodell also participated in a front-page feature for the Wall Street Journal in what appears to be the latest of many attempts to reassert the commissioner’s reputation for seriousness.

Monica Langley, an admired reporter who usually profiles titans of industry like Steve Ballmer and Jamie Dimon, scored “a series of interviews over a period of weeks this fall as the commissioner was caught flat-footed in the unfolding controversy.”

Here are some excerpts, which Deadspin’s Tom Ley called an “attempt to turn Roger Goodell into Robert Kennedy navigating the Cuban Missile Crisis”:

Late into the night on Sept. 10, executives in the NFL conference room brainstormed over ways to prove the commissioner wasn’t covering up for Mr. Rice. Pizzas arrived but no slice was taken until Mr. Goodell ate. He never did, and the slices turned cold in the box.

NFL General Counsel Jeffrey Pash suggested an independent investigation run by former Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller. “Call him now,” Mr. Goodell said, despite the late hour.

As Mr. Goodell reviewed the cases with advisers, he jumped to take calls at his desk. During one, he told his twin 13-year-old daughters he wouldn’t be home for dinner. He also took calls from owners and player representatives begging for leniency. “Let me be clear,” Mr. Goodell barked to one caller, “we’re taking him off the field.”

Around that time, a friend, General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, told Mr. Goodell to “stop and apologize now,” Mr. Immelt said. “This is fast-moving and deeply felt.”

National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver and Mr. Goodell compared notes over lunch at 21 Club in Manhattan. “You can learn from what we’re going through,” Mr. Goodell told him.

More than any other person in the sports world, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wishes to convey that he is a serious man. He is unfailingly humorless, both in his public appearances and his interactions with his players. He tries to look the whole package, too. He’s a workout freak, so he can never be an empty suit in the most literal sense, and he’s cribbed Clint Eastwood’s perpetual squint at trouble in the distance. In spite of the sport’s essential rowdiness, Goodell has always been that way—he once told FORTUNE that as a six-year-old he looked up to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.

The funny-as-hell thing about Goodell’s seriousness is that it’s a pose. A goofy, dopey, dishonest pose, one that frequently falls apart under the tiniest scintilla of scrutiny, be it a sympathetic player facing punishment or mounting medical evidence of the game’s longterm ravages. His seemingly careful moral calculus then gets laid bare as a PR strategy, and typically not a very good one, either.

This happened most recently less than three months ago, with the controversy over TMZ’s Ray Rice tape. NFL insiders had leaked to all the appropriate veteran reporters that league brass had investigated the matter thoroughly. As the story went, the league had seen the tape of what happened in the elevator and punished Rice appropriately, with a two-game ban. Then the tape came out, and Goodell then insisted publicly that neither he nor anyone at the league had ever seen it. He determined, too, that Rice now needed a stiffer suspension, which went from two games to a two-game ban he thought too lenient but wouldn’t adjust, to an indefinite suspension, to no suspension, at the behest of a retired federal judge who said Goodell had “abuse[d his] discretion.”

I’ve read the Journal piece over a few times, and I can’t tell whether it’s high satire—the Journal, in the driest tone imaginable, laughs at the transparent method Goodell employs in hopes of recreating an image he had to abandon on account of transparent phoniness earlier this fall—or just another too-credulous account of a lightweight commissioner. (An aside: It’s also hard to tell which details Langley got firsthand, and which came from sources, or what ground rules she may have agreed to in order to get access. It’s hard to imagine the most important detail to come from an all-hands crisis meeting at NFL headquarters concerned the pizza.) It looks a lot like the latter, owing to the accretion of these details and this passage, too:

Meantime, the Rices are fighting back. Last month, an independent arbitrator awarded Mr. Rice reinstatement to the NFL. Janay Rice—now his wife—accused Mr. Goodell of being dishonest when he had said Mr. Rice misled him about the punching. “I don’t take those things personally,” Mr. Goodell said.

For those of you scoring at home, that’s a non-defense of what would be a substantial lie for Goodell, if Rice is telling the truth. But he’s allowed to brush it off as nonsense from a disgraced couple. These are the perks, apparently, of being a very serious man.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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