Roger Goodell Stayed Out of the Fire Because It Was The Best Thing to Do, But That Might Now Be The Problem

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Roger Goodell has been out of the spotlight since last week’s interview with Norah O’Donnell. While the shiny lights of discussing Roger Goodell, and Ray Rice, and then the Adrian Peterson story have kept us occupied, the man who normally stands out front as the public face of the league was absent.

Now that the Vikings have reversed course on the Peterson decision, people are starting to take notice. Our favorite grumpy uncle Ray Ratto wants to know where Hyena Goodell has been hiding out. Sally Jenkins goes in on Goodell hiding behind the shield. Peter King has now said it is time to hear from Goodell.  Outside The Lines will be examining where Roger Goodell has been over the last week.

The knives have turned back on Goodell, and he might be in need of a Rescue.

That said, what Roger Goodell has done, limiting his public appearances and pronouncements over the last few days, is exactly what he should do. He is the story, and when he is the story, what would he do publicly that would be effective? If he shows up at the opening of the new Levi’s Stadium, wouldn’t all the attention be on him, as opposed to the game? If he jumps in to the Peterson situation in the immediate aftermath on Friday evening with a pronouncement, it assuredly would not have been received well. For the din that is now beginning again, it would have been 10x louder if Goodell had stepped into that breach.

Consider this as well–while we might assume that Roger Goodell would have otherwise been front and center but for being the center of attacks over the handling of Ray Rice’s suspension, the precedent is decidely silent on whether that is actually true. Yes, Roger Goodell has a reputation — which he has cultivated — for being the disciplinarian. You know how many times that Goodell has issued an immediate suspension in regard to news that came out of an off-the-field incident, in the middle of a season?

Once.

And that player was Adam “Pac Man” Jones, who got into a fight with his bodyguard on October 9th, 2008, and was suspended five days later. Jones had a lengthy history of incidents and discipline from Goodell, so that was very much a special case where the discipline was because of who it was, and not public outcry over the incident itself. All of the in-season suspensions by Goodell were either in relation to events that happened prior to the season beginning, for which there would have been more time for investigation and consideration, or were for in-game activities (Haynesworth’s stomp, Suh’s stomp, helmet hits).

Every major event involving a prominent off-the-field occurrence, save three, came to light or occurred during the offseason, from Michael Vick and dogfighting, to Donte Stallworth’s vehicular manslaughter charge, to Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations. The only other such incidents during a season were Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg, Josh Brent’s drunk driving which killed teammate Jerry Brown, and Aldon Smith’s DUI last year.

While Goodell would later institute an indefinite suspension to review Burress’ case after his sentence ended, it was initially the Giants who suspended Burress through the end of the season while charges were pending. And Burress wasn’t  going to be able to play with the injury anyway. Josh Brent was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list by the Cowboys (after appearing on the sidelines), and not initially disciplined by Goodell. Aldon Smith was allowed to play immediately after his DUI, then was deactivated after and sought treatment, as the team and not the league again took that action.

So I’m not convinced that what went down, with the Minnesota Vikings immediately de-activating Peterson only to temporarily reinstate the day after the game, would have been different in an alternate universe where Ray Rice never happened. This Peterson deal was a new matter of first resort — a star player coming under fire in the middle of the season, just days before the next game, as pictures of potential child abuse leaked to the public. The league got more involved, behind the scenes, when the Vikings made their initial move, and even if Goodell was not out in front on the issue publicly, he was certainly involved in brokering a solution once public pressure and the advertisers’ complaints grew.

Of course, one could ask whether the outcry would have been the same if the five days leading up to the Adrian Peterson bombshell dropping near 5 pm on a Friday had not happened.

One of Goodell’s primary role is to take on water for the owners, which is why you largely saw a disconnect between the general public and the ownership view of Goodell last week. Remember the lockout? Goodell effectively took all the heat and handled the talking points publicly on selling the NFL’s positions. We saw what happened when an owner was prominently involved–Jerry Richardson made an ass of himself. Richardson’s exposure was lessened after that, with Goodell and other negotiators providing cover. That’s the same Jerry Richardson who is about to be on the front line as Greg Hardy moves back to prominence, with no cover from the league office this time.

It’s Goodell who takes the lead and the hits on the concussion issues, though it is the owners who are benefitting by the delays and obfuscations. It is Goodell who takes the heat on player behavior, so owners don’t have to get up and make bumbling or tone deaf decisions that are criticized by media, and then have people maybe notice that their past isn’t too clean.

If Goodell can’t provide that cover, well, he’s not earning the $44 million that allows the owners to earn their billions with comparatively less criticism. For this week, he was unable to do so because he would have magnified the story and any public actions would have been ineffective. Now that he is again becoming the story, he needs to again step up and provide a public face and cover. If he has taken on too much water so that he can’t come out and acknowledge mistakes like Wilf did in today’s press conference, well, that may be a problem.

[Feature Image by Michael Shamburger]