National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell’s father was a senator from the great state of New York. A liberal Republican (those existed then) he spoke out against the Vietnam War, sponsoring the first bill to defund the carnage in 1970, earning “the wrath of Richard Nixon.” The response to Senator Goodell by Nixon was so unhinged that looking back it was a sign of the paranoia, the enemies lists, and the secret recordings that eventually did Nixon in. Now the younger Goodell, like his father’s nemesis, can see all of his power and privilege crashing down over a tape.
Roger Goodell, the most powerful man in the Sports World, is now officially fighting for his professional life following a report from the Associated Press that the league did in fact have a copy of the videotape, now public to the world, of Ray Rice striking his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, into unconsciousness. The $40 million-a-year man has spent the last several days answering questions about whether or not he or anyone in the NFL executive suites actually saw the footage before issuing the now infamous two-game suspension to Rice. His answer has consistently been that no one saw the tape. The official statement from the NFL as reported by MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes was as follows: “We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident including the video from inside the elevator. That video is not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today.” There is no wiggle room, no equivocation, with this statement. But only media members who seem to live to feel the warmth of Roger Goodell’s glow have been buying this steaming pile of sanctimonious tripe.
The reasons for widespread skepticism were abundant. Given that the NFL security staff includes former members of the FBI and Secret Service amongst their ranks, given that the NFL was in regular contact with law enforcement officials in New Jersey after the assault, and given that the NFL is profoundly image-conscious and routinely does the most invasive possible deep dives into the personal lives of their employees, it strained credulity that they never had seen the tape before it was released. Now the strained credulity has officially snapped. A law enforcement official has gone to the AP to say that he sent an NFL executive this video five months ago. This official played the AP a voicemail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming that the video had made it to their offices. As the AP reported, “A female voice expressed her thanks and says ‘you’re right it’s terrible ‘”
Within minutes of the AP report, the NFL chose to double down. They released the following statement in response. “We have no knowledge of this. We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it.”
My belief from the beginning of this ordeal has been that the only way Goodell is forced out of office is if the owners decide he has become bad for business. His tenure has been rife with scandal and incompetence, yet he has grown in stature because the profit margins of the league are unmatched. He has benefited from the simple fact that when the glorious game starts, a narcotic perfume drowns the stench. But there is no covering up this particular odor. Week one of the NFL season just ended and all everyone is talking about, other than at the NFL’s own house network, is domestic violence and what Roger Goodell knew and when he knew it. The question is not “Who can challenge the Seattle Seahawks for NFL supremacy?” The question is, “Did Goodell see the tape?” Goodell loves talking about “responsibility” and “accountability.” He will be held to account. If there is tangible evidence he is hurting the owners” bottom line, they will coldly dispatch him like he was a seventh-round draft pick getting cut from training camp. They might anyway. If the NFL really wants to send a message that violence against women will not be tolerated, then they can at long last fire someone who either was so incompetent he did not seek out footage of Ray Rice’s violence against Janay Rice, or so venal, he saw it and did not care. Either way, one thing is without a doubt: we have a commissioner who did not think the substance of what took place in that elevator mattered until it became a crisis of public relations.