By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- This coming Friday afternoon, Roger Goodell will step to a podium in San Francisco and deliver an address that has come to be known as "The State of the League."
Considering that league continues to essentially print its own currency, and considering that hundreds of millions of eyeballs will be fixed to television screens around the world this Sunday for the game's marquee event, suffice it to say that the league is thriving.
From that standpoint, Goodell will be a proud man when he speaks to the gathered media. He'll discuss the league's excitement for the upcoming move to Los Angeles, a city that will offer significant growth potential and figures to actually stick this time. He'll talk about revenue, TV ratings, and the fact that interest in the NFL has never been higher. He'll note that even though concussion numbers rose significantly this past season, the league remains committed to the health and safety of players.
It will, for the most part, be an ice cold avalanche of garbage flowing straight from the lips of a duplicitous "leader." And it will all go unchecked.
I had the fortune (misfortune?) to attend last year's "State of the League" address, and it was a complete and total sham. Goodell might as well have been the man behind the curtain, pulling levers and hitting buttons to get the man on stage to recite tired buzzwords and force smiles.
Goodell said the league was committed to keeping the Rams in St. Louis. He has since steered the franchise to Los Angeles.
Goodell vowed that the league now -- finally, in the year 2015 -- understood domestic violence and had developed policies and employed experts that would allow the NFL to handle such cases properly. A month later, Goodell did not attend Greg Hardy's appeal hearing. He must have been busy.
Goodell praised the excellence and independence of Ted Wells, a man he claimed to have "uncompromising integrity." Goodell stressed that the NFL only cared about finding the truth. In reality, the NFL had leaked false PSI numbers which implicated the Patriots quite badly, but did not seek to provide the public with that truth until May. And on the "independence" front, Wells hid behind attorney-client privilege in Tom Brady's appeal hearing, and Judge Richard Berman later got the NFL to admit that Wells' purported "independence" was "irrelevant."
Goodell claimed that he is available to the media "almost every day." In the year since, he's only spoken publicly at press conferences. He also opted to not attend the opening game of the NFL season, which was in New England.
Goodell vowed that the NFL has fans' interests and security in mind with regard to exorbitant ticket prices on the secondary market. Just this past week, it was reported that the NFL is under investigation for perhaps violating antitrust laws.
And at one point, a young boy grabbed a microphone and asked Roger Goodell if he exercises.
It was nice.
But it was all hot air.
Being seated near the stage, in the middle of a very long row, I knew that I had zero chance of having an NFL representative hand me a microphone so that I could ask Goodell a question. I watched as some folks to my left and right eagerly raised their arms like first graders and waved their hands in a futile effort to get the attention of the mighty microphone distributors, and it made me wonder if anyone really had a chance to ask a question. The whole process just seemed scripted.
And with the press conference being broadcast live around the country, and with Goodell in the midst of the most hellacious year of his professional life, and with the clandestine way the NFL likes to operate, the idea of the NFL deciding ahead of time exactly who gets to ask questions and -- more or less -- exactly what they get to ask is not outrageous.
In any event, with the Patriots boldly deciding to not block anyone wearing orange two weeks ago, I won't be in the Bay Area this week, so I won't be able to be there in person as Goodell delivers his inspiring messages, nor will I be able to ask the man any questions. And after seeing the process last year, I'm fairly certain that I'd struggle to get my hands on a microphone even if I were there.
So, if I may temporarily drop in to the fantasy land in which Goodell resides, I have a few questions I wouldn't mind getting off my chest. Here's what I'd ask Roger if I had the chance.
"Why are you the way that you are?"
It's plagiarizing Michael Scott, sure, but the question needs to be asked. Why are you the way that you are? What's your deal? Do you ever get tired of uttering 400 words without saying a single thing? Or is that just who you are as a person? When you were 10 years old, and your mom asked if you liked broccoli, did you respond by saying, "Well, as we've said, broccoli is a very important part of the family dinner, and it is something we're always taking a look at"?
What's your deal, Roger?
"Is a hot dog a sandwich?"
I've always leaned toward no, because it's not a sandwich. But the conviction with which the "it is a sandwich" crowd speaks makes me second-guess myself.
Whatever the case may be, I'm willing to take the side opposite of whatever you say. (Though I know the answer would be, "That's a good question. We're always evaluating the role of hot dogs, and whether they are sandwiches. It's a process that is ongoing, and I look forward to seeing the results, which we will share with you when we get them.")
"Why must you answer every question as 'we'? Aren't you supposed to be the one man in charge?"
My fake answer to the last question got me thinking of this one, because it's important. The commissioner gets paid in excess of $40 million annually to be a number of things, and one of those things is unquestionably the fall guy for owners. You don't think the owners were happy to let Goodell serve as the national punching bag after Ray Rice, when in actuality it was the owners who employ and cover for people like Rice all the time?
Even if Goodell doesn't actually yield much power over the owners, he's still supposed to be the guy in charge. So why does he answer everything in the first person plural?
In last year's state of the league address, he said the word "we" 185 times. In a question about DeflateGate, an issue which was very clearly a personal one to the commissioner, he used the word "we" seven times in his 111-word response. He also said "we'll" and "us."
Could you please hold yourself accountable, just a little bit? Either be the man in charge or don't be the man in charge. Either take a stand, or don't. Can you stop hiding behind "we," please?
"Any uhh ... any chance we get to see those PSI numbers you recorded this year?"
Oh wait, that's my fault. You didn't record the data, even though before the season you laid out that data would be recorded by referees and submitted to the league. You just did "spot checks." My bad for misinterpreting the information you laid out plainly a few months ago. Sorry about that. My mistake. Moving on.
"Has nobody told you that when you drink your water bottle like this, it's an obvious tell that you're in the midst of being untruthful?"
Seriously, nobody's let you know about this? Don't you come from a PR background?
"How dumb do you think we all are?"
Roger, Mike Hurley here, big fan. Listen, I put in zero legwork in my casual research back when the Ray Rice story broke. I have no sway, no influence over authorities or corporations or anything like that. I can't put in a phone call and make a piece of evidence either appear or disappear here, you know what I mean?
Yet even me -- lil' old me -- managed to read the police reports on Deadspin.com. (That's a website, have you heard of it?) And on that site, in FEBRUARY of 2014, I saw that the casino had video from inside the elevator. Granted, the public video of Rice casually dragging his unconscious fiancee out of the elevator was enough for me to know what happened, but I did also know that video from inside that elevator existed. In February -- F-E-B-R-U-A-R-Y -- I knew this.
Yet it wasn't until TMZ released the tape from inside that elevator that you seemed to know it existed. Well, you knew about it back in February, but you never even asked to obtain it. In fact, someone sent the damn video to your office, but you apparently did not care to watch it. Heck, Ray Rice himself told you in his meeting with you that he punched her in the elevator, but you were too busy scribbling nonsense in your notepad for it to land.
Because you wanted to make the incident as small as possible. You wanted it to go away.
But it didn't, and when America saw that video, you had no choice but to act shocked and appalled, as if you didn't know what happened in that elevator all along. Suddenly, you were this enlightened man who stated such obvious truths as this:
"Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They have no place in the NFL and are unacceptable in any way, under any circumstances."
Wow. Thank you for teaching me the most basic of basic fundamentals of human decency. Where would we be without you? Thank you for being my new moral compass.
"Why weren't you at Greg Hardy's appeal hearing?"
I thought this stuff was important to you now? Did you have a DeflateGate meeting to attend that day or something?
"What was so funny about Roger Staubach's concussion joke?"
And did you have to keep laughing and laughing and laughing? Even if it was funny to you, there's no way that it was that funny. You know those types of events are recorded, right?
Maybe you ought to have somebody read this to you. Maybe you'll at least have the decency to save your chuckles for private moments.
"Why is that now, a full 12 months after your league office's ineptitude and hawkishness led to national news anchors raising the question on national news programs that the Patriots may have 'cheated their way' into the Super Bowl, there's been not one bit of discipline handed down on any NFL employees? Did they not badly damage the 'integrity of the game' which you hold so dear?"
Somebody leaked the false numbers, Roger. Did you investigate who did it?
Of course you didn't, because when those false numbers were out there in the public, you were busy making your State of the League speech, in which you claimed that all the league was trying to find was the truth. While members of your office were disseminating damaging misinformation about one of your member clubs, you said you only wanted the truth.
On a different note, considering we now know that nothing is more important to the integrity of the game than the air pressure inside the footballs, why have we not heard of any punishments for Bill Leavy? He was the ref who had footballs jacked up to 16 PSI earlier in the 2014 season for a Patriots game. He moved on to a new supervisory role this year, which by all accounts was a promotion.
And, oh, integrity. Why haven't you punished Dean Blandino for publicly lying about his knowledge about concerns over football inflation levels? Certainly, the man in charge of officiating getting caught in a lie is more damaging to the integrity of the game than the air pressure of a football being a fraction of a PSI too low, isn't it?
What about Dave Gardi, your senior VP of football ops? He sent false PSI recordings to the Patriots last year, numbers which sent the team scrambling and forced them to keep quiet. Had he provided the Patriots with the actual numbers, then the team would have been able to explain itself with basic science. And when the Patriots simply asked you to correct the public misinformation, your general counsel Jeff Pash fought them tooth-and-nail to keep quiet about the truth.
Why is that you as well as everybody that works for you is immune from punishment?
"In your two most high-profile cases, the two incidents which will ultimately come to define your tenure as commissioner, you outright lied when misrepresenting what was said to you in closed-door meetings. And if you had your way, the public would never have known about these lies you told. If not for ESPN obtaining and publicizing a transcript of the Rice proceedings, and if not for Judge Berman deciding to unseal Brady's appeal hearing transcript, we would have never known that you were lying. But instead, we do know that you are 2-for-2 when it comes to outright lying in your biggest decisions as commissioner.
So, four questions. How many other times have you lied in cases that we don't know about? If you say there aren't any other instances, how could we possibly believe you?
How on earth do you still utter the word 'integrity' as often as you do?
And how do you still consider yourself to have any credibility?"
Yeah, I think that one would work.
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