Saturday, September 13, 2014

Roger, over and out

If Roger Goodell is still commissar -- er, commissioner -- of the National Football League by the time you read this, it's because he has 32 team owners who love him. And a legion of fans who'll buy anything with an NFL logo. Including balderdash.

Roger Goodell,
 By Staff Sgt. Bradley Lail, USAF [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
Last week, I led my public relations class through a discussion of the Ray Rice-hit-his-fiancee-now-wife episode. But I might as well have done the lecture in origami, because new details keep unfolding.

Last Friday, Baltimore Ravens fans -- including many women -- were shown in USA Today wearing replicas of Rice's jersey in support of the banned running back. The story continues to change, but here's a reasonable snapshot of what's taken place. It's not pretty.

Rice and his wife may be right in blaming the media for their woes, including his indefinite suspension. They both appear to have behaved with amazing stupidity. Public opinion labelled Rice as an abusive personality long before the punch-in-the-elevator video went viral.

But Goodell's claims that the NFL never saw the latest video sound hollow, if not false. When he told CBS News that the NFL hadn't seen the in-the-elevator footage before Monday, Sept. 8, he shifted the public's furor away from the Rices, and onto himself.

But then, that's Roger's job.

Goodell's credibility -- already stretched thin by the NFL's long dance around the concussions and brain injury issues -- wasn't helped when the AP reported that the punch video was sent to the NFL in April.

Goodell's job is to be the lightning rod for any and all criticism of the NFL. That's so the 32 team owners don't have to take the heat when a player or coach behaves foolishly or violently. And, as the  New York Times' Joe Nocera points out, Goodell's well-paid for taking all that heat.

Meanwhile, NFL fans consistently overlook its mistakes and its arrogance. Why? Perhaps because the league -- with its own cable network, plus incredible influence over other TV networks through multi-billion dollar contracts -- manages public opinion better than any celebrity rock star.

Their tax-exempt, anti-trust exempt status frees the NFL from meaningful scrutiny. And no one's held accountable. At least, until now, when U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller's asking for federal hearings about the NFL's domestic violence issues, which may be more widespread than just between the Rices.

My view: the NFL needs to get its stories straight. Goodell appears either out-of-touch or an exceptionally gifted hoodwinker. Either way, his credibility as an in-touch senior leader is severely impeded. And the team owners can't hide behind a $44 million man with zero credibility.