If Roger Goodell was half the man he wants everyone to think he is, the fair-haired boy would resign as commissioner of the NFL immediately.
But all indications are he’s not even close to the tower of virtue he presents himself as being; the kind of guy who poses on the cover of Time Magazine with the heading "The Enforcer."
And as the latest revelations tumbled out in a scandal that will almost certainly cost him his job, Goodell has already put out word through his carefully chosen media friends that he won’t be stepping down.
Resign? "Never," sources say.
Fine. He should be fired. Just for that.
The number of ways Goodell has failed to navigate yet another NFL firestorm is mind-boggling, but also kind of soul destroying.
Sports without a moral centre are simply games. It’s why they break out the flag and do military flyovers at the Super Bowl. It’s to connect the whole profit-driven dog-and-pony show to something bigger and deeper. Any thinking fan knows this to be a scam, but no one relishes having it rubbed in their face over and over again.
Goodell is the worst of the breed: preaching righteousness and virtue — I will vomit the next time he talks about “protecting the shield” as if the NFL’s symbol is anything other than a logo and he was some kind of suit-wearing super hero — while double-dealing in blood, gristle and flesh.
He failed to take leadership on medical benefits for retired NFL players. He failed to take leadership on the sad fact that playing football endangered the mental health — literally the brains — of those who built the sport.
And he’s only ever been inconsistent when it comes to using the NFL’s personal conduct policy to hand out punishments that don’t fall under the league’s collective bargaining agreement with its players.
Does all of that reflect honest ineptitude on the part of the commissioner, who earned $44 million last year? Or is it all part of a troubled sport’s rotten core where no moral or virtue can’t be sacrificed for a dollar or a public relations point?
Goodell’s phony law-and-order routine cost him the trust of his players long ago.
The latest series of events should cost him the trust of the public and, more crucially, the owners he works for.
Goodell has spent the better part of 48 hours denying that he or anyone in the NFL front office had ever seen the first part of the Feb. 15 video, the one that TMZ released Monday showing Rice knocking out his then-fiancée, now wife, with a single punch.
Now the bombshell; the smoking voice mail, as it were: According the Associated Press, a law enforcement official from Atlantic City had forwarded the video tape to the NFL on April 9. They played for the AP a 12-second voice mail with a female voice confirming the video had arrived, expressing thanks and saying: “You’re right. It’s terrible.”
It would seem all too obvious now that the NFL had in its possession the video evidence of the nastiness of that night weeks before they levelled the measly two-game suspension that sparked the first wave of controversy.
So Goodell is now in the position of either being exposed as a liar, or even worse a leader perfectly willing to let those around him do the dirty work while he wraps himself in a cloak of plausible deniability.
The only other possibility is that Goodell is so incompetent he would allow himself and the $10-billion league he’s charged with protecting to be blindsided by a scandal that he easily could have headed off at the pass with some determined investigating, forward thinking and moral leadership.
Next time, I guess.
Lost amid all of this is that Goodell’s lack of vision has victimized Janay Palmer Rice a second time.
The presence of a second video should never have mattered. What significance was the exact detail of how she was knocked unconscious? It was a drunken, ugly, domestic incident that ended in violence. The world saw how it looked at the end, with Rice dragging his wife across a Casino hotel floor. Who needed to see how it started?
If Goodell had acted more decisively and clearly on countless other domestic incidents that have occurred under his watch, he would have long ago had proper standards in place.
It was only after he was crushed by public opinion for only giving Rice a two-game suspension that he got his act together. Last month he put in place a framework — six games for a first offence and a lifetime ban for a second (with an option to apply for reinstatement) — that should have been in place years ago.
If it had been justice — or at least a more appropriate version of it — it would have been seen as done in the Rice case.
While serving a six- or eight-game suspension, the Baltimore Ravens running back and his wife would have had some semblance of time and privacy to do what is ultimately most important: work towards a loving and lasting relationship as they raise their child.
Rice would still have a chance — provided he underwent the proper rehabilitation — to resume some version of his life and live it better. Like it or not, he should have that right and it would probably bode better for his future, and his family’s future well-being, to work towards that than the situation they find themselves in now.
Instead, Goodell either lied about not seeing the video or didn’t look hard enough, so that when it eventually became public he had to feign a new layer of shock and disgust (did he think Rice knocked her out gently?) and then roll the NFL justice bus back over the family a few more times.
The worst moment of their lives will live on in Google for all time, and Ray Rice will likely never have a chance to play football again — in large measure because Goodell got it wrong in the first place.
This is not to suggest that Rice should be cut a break for what he did; only that properly handled he would serve a meaningful punishment, get the counseling he needs and earn a chance to rebuild his life and reputation brick-by-brick.
It’s a task that seems impossible now, and Goodell should wear that.
Calling the commissioner an empty suit would be too kind. An empty suit is a mere vessel, a symbol of style over substance.
Goodell is worse than that. He is, at the very least, a truth dissembler and likely the kind of man that can look someone in the eye and say things he knows aren’t true for his own gain.
There is a place for people like that. It’s called politics — the dirty end of it at least. And Goodell’s very public role as commissioner of North America’s richest and most influential sports league, which loves nothing more to present itself as heartland American values, has always hinted at the idea that the son of a U.S. senator had his eye on something grander, something presidential.
Those ideas have to be dead in their tracks now.
How sad is it that the only good thing to come out of that horrible 30 seconds when Rice smacked his loved one would be a cynical, clumsy cover-up attempt that should — and we can only hope — shake the NFL up from the inside out.
Starting at the top.
The time is now. Goodell has to go. And if he doesn’t see it that way, that’s all the evidence anyone should need.
No video review required.