Goodell calls for action, sidesteps details in press conference
Making his first public comments since the NFL was plunged into a very public and highly embarrassing spate of off-field dilemmas centering around domestic violence, commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday that the ongoing troubles have served as a wake-up call.
Or, at least, he wants everyone to believe that they have.
Goodell announced that the league will implement a wide-ranging examination of how it handles personal conduct issues moving forward, while again blaming himself for the initial handling of Ray Rice's case.
"At our best, the NFL sets an example that makes a positive difference. Unfortunately, over the past several weeks, we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong," Goodell said as part of a statement, prior to taking questions from the media in attendance at a New York Hilton. "That starts with me. I said this before, back on Aug. 28 and I say it again now, I got it wrong in 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."
Rice's initial two-game suspension was in place when, on the morning of Sept. 8, TMZ released security camera footage from inside an elevator at Atlantic City's Revel Hotel and Casino that showed, in graphic detail, Rice punching and knocking unconscious his then-fiancee. After Rice was subsequently released by Baltimore, Goodell issued him an indefinite suspension.
Since then, Goodell's only comments have come via an interview with CBS News. In it, Goodell said that the league had not secured the damning Rice video prior to that Sept. 8 release; he reiterated that statement Friday. A law enforcement officer disputed Goodell's claim, via the Associated Press, claiming that he sent the league a copy of the footage in question back in April.
"I don't expect anyone just to take my word," Goodell said Friday. "Last week, I asked former FBI director Robert Mueller to conduct an independent investigation of our process. I pledge that director Mueller will have full cooperation and access. We look forward to his report and findings.
"Any shortcoming he finds in how we dealt with the situation will lead to swift actions. The same mistakes cannot be repeated. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure we are thorough in our review process and our conclusions reliable."
The timeline and details of the Rice investigation were among the topics on which Goodell was grilled by the media in attendance Friday. On that topic and a number of others, including Goodell's own status as the judge and jury in disciplinary matters, the commissioner tapdanced around any meaningful answers.
Goodell repeatedly claimed that the league "will get it right" and "will clean up our house" without offering much in the way of specifics. He did reveal that he has had conversations with NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith about the personal conduct policy, with the current plan being to form a conduct committee that would oversee such decisions.
"I expect that we'll have the committee in place by the Super Bowl," Goodell said.
Earlier this week, Goodell announced that all league personnel would be required to attend educational sessions on the topics of domestic violence and sexual abuse, as well as that the NFL would begin partnerships with the National Domestic Violence Hotline and National Sexual Violence Resource Center. A four-woman team -- Anna Isaacson, Lisa Friel, Jane Randel and Rita Smith -- also was named to help the league form its new domestic violence policy.
He highlighted all of those plans again during Friday's press conference.
"I'm not satisfied with the way we handled [the Ray Rice situation] from the get-go," Goodell said. "As I told you and this statement indicates, I made a mistake. I'm not satisfied with the process we went through. I'm not satisfied with the conclusions. And that's why we came out on Aug. 28 and said we're going to make changes."
Back during the Saints' bounty scandal, Goodell explained his year-long ban of head coach Sean Payton, in part, by chastising him that "ignorance is not an excuse". However, Goodell either was unable or unwilling to answer several questions posed of him Friday, citing a lack of information personally available to him.
"I believe in accountability," said Goodell during his lengthy opening statement. "I understand the challenges before me and I will be held accountable for meeting them."
Perhaps the most pressing challenge for Goodell in the immediate future will be disciplining a growing number of players either charged with or accused of domestic violence transgressions. Adrian Peterson, one of the league's most recognizable superstars, was added to that list last week when he was arrested on a child abuse charge. Greg Hardy, Jonathan Dwyer and Ray McDonald also have pending legal cases.
"We're like a microcosm of society. We have a lot of young men, a lot of individuals that play or coach ... they make mistakes," Goodell said in response to a question specifically pertaining to Peterson's situation. "That is something that while I'm disappointed in what Adrian Peterson was involved with, we want to see the facts, but what we've seen so far is tragic, hard to look at. We have to allow those facts to proceed.