Perry Knotts/AP

Two years ago, Roger Goodell told the Saints that ignorance was not a suitable defense in the Bountygate scandal. In the wake of the second Ray Rice video, the NFL commissioner is using that same defense. His credibility is slipping away

By Don Banks
September 10, 2014

He’ll keep his job. Of course he’ll keep his job, because even after Monday’s swift and stunning turn of events, you won’t be able to find at least 17 NFL team owners who think Roger Goodell should lose it. Did you hear those rousing votes of confidence for the NFL’s embattled commissioner issued on Tuesday by Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones? They were protecting more than the league’s vaunted shield with those words of support, ripped right from the “Heckuva job, Brownie’’ playbook.

But while his job may be safe, Goodell’s credibility has been badly damaged by the league’s botched and bungled response to the Ray Rice domestic violence saga. And without credibility, it’s very difficult to respect his judgment or authority going forward.

Despite two days of damage control efforts lobbed from a Park Avenue bunker, the league’s explanations of how it failed to discover what that elevator surveillance camera captured still don’t remotely pass the sniff test. The choices remain either incompetence or negligence, and either way, Goodell is responsible for the abysmal failure that took place in the league’s flawed investigation. It happened on his watch, and under his leadership.

And those are the rules, right? Because how is this substantially different than the charge Goodell—with righteous indignation—levied against Saints head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis two years ago in the team’s bounty scandal? As you recall, ignorance wasn’t accepted as a defense when Payton and Loomis claimed they weren’t aware of what renegade defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was up to in his meeting room, with his bounty pool nonsense.

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Goodell’s tough-guy stance was, If you didn’t know exactly what was going on in your program, that’s no excuse. You should have known. Case closed. Punishment dispensed.

Right back at you, Roger. The reality is: You should have known what was on that second tape. You should never have ruled on the Rice case to begin with until you did. You should have not rested until you found out exactly what happened in that elevator. In the case of Rice, where was that same motivation and dogged determination to get to the bottom of things that Goodell displayed during the Saints investigation?

Does that buck stop here? Or over there, in this instance?

I commended Goodell just last week for working to get it right in approving stricter discipline for domestic violence cases. But he managed to undo most of that progress when it came to light that he presided over the fumbled investigation of Rice, passing judgment based on a set of incomplete facts and following the lead of a New Jersey judicial system that failed miserably.

If the NFL can’t match the sleuthing skills of TMZ, maybe we just got a peek behind the green curtain; nobody back there looks all that great and powerful.

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti at least had the guts to come out Tuesday and admit the obvious, writing a letter to the team’s season-ticket holders in which he said: “We stopped seeking to view or obtain a copy of the video. We halted our fact-finding. That was a mistake on our part. We should have seen it earlier… We should have pursued our own investigation more vigorously. We didn’t and we were wrong.’’

Goodell and the league owe everyone at least that much candor, and we’re still waiting. Otherwise, where’s that higher standard that the commissioner so often cites? The league has all the necessary resources and connections in the world of law enforcement. If Baltimore’s investigation was a joke, what does that make the NFL’s? If the NFL can’t match the sleuthing skills of TMZ, maybe we just got a peek behind the green curtain; nobody back there looks all that great and powerful.

If nothing else comes of this debacle, Goodell no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt in terms of overseeing an investigation of this magnitude. His failure in this instance should provide the tipping point for him to surrender his power to play judge, jury and executioner in league disciplinary matters. The NFL’s stance that it didn’t need to dig any deeper than it had already dug into Rice’s case can’t happen again.

With the Rice case, combined with Goodell being censured by predecessor Paul Tagliabue over the punishment handed down in the Saints investigation, the commissioner has lost too much credibility to solely retain that role. His reputation and authority have been compromised in the eyes of the public. In the future, there needs to an outside investigation if the disciplinary matter rises to that level, removing the commissioner from the equation.

Goodell must know that at this point. He might retain the full faith and confidence of his bosses, the league’s owners, to conduct the NFL’s business from a bottom-line perspective—a role in which he has been wildly successful. But as the league’s self-appointed czar of discipline, he has failed, and ceded his claim to the high ground. The Rice incident served to expose once and for all the incongruities of the league’s punishment rulings.

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A two-game suspension for a domestic violence episode that was detailed in a police report and supported by the visual of an unconscious Janay Palmer being dragged off the elevator in the first video, but an indefinite ban once we saw the actual punch being delivered by Rice? Does that pass for real leadership from the commissioner or merely reacting to a tidal wave of bad PR?

As has been said already, Ray Rice isn’t an ex-Raven today because the NFL finally saw the second tape. He’s an ex-Raven because we finally saw the second tape, and we were repulsed by the images. Goodell and the Ravens acted Monday only when events gave them no other reasonable choice. No credit given or deserved. Had they investigated and acted appropriately earlier, none of Monday’s whirlwind drama would have taken place, at least not the day after the NFL’s 95th regular season kicked off, drawing all attention away from the field.

Calls for his resignation aside, Goodell isn’t going anywhere as long as the owners still staunchly support him, and they do. But the NFL’s brand, the one the league office holds so dearly, has been tarnished. The gap between Goodell’s credibility and the credibility the league needs from its most powerful executive has never been wider. His leadership and judgment are damaged goods.

As the Ravens made clear, an elevator surveillance video changed everything about their view of Ray Rice. But Rice wasn't alone in that respect. After Monday, the way we view Roger Goodell is different as well.


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