By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — You’ve got to a pick a side, Roger. You’ve got to decide on a course.
You’re either the hyper litigious, aggressively protective arbiter of justice, or you’re the ringleader of the good old boys network of rich, powerful men who cannot and should not be held accountable.
You’ve got to make your choice, Roger.
Though it seems as if you already have.
On Tuesday, as the work day came to a close on the East Coast and just a few hours before Pro Bowl rosters would be announced, the NFL slyly released the news that the New York Giants were being “punished.” For having a head coach illegally using a walkie-talkie during a game to communicate with his quarterback in a game against the Cowboys, the Giants were fined $150,000 and Ben McAdoo was fined $50,000.
Here’s the kicker: The NFL will be taking the Giants’ fourth-round pick in next year’s draft and … moving it a little later in the fourth round of the draft. But fear not; it’s not too much later, as it can only fall a maximum of 12 spots.
There is coming down with the swift hammer of justice, and there is coming down with a dainty massage on the wrist.
In this instance, Roger has opted for the latter.
On its own, it is a curious disciplinary decision, as there was very little doubt that a rule had been violated. No investigation was necessary to determine that McAdoo was indeed barking orders into a walkie-talkie, which is strictly forbidden in the NFL.
Yet, because the NFL loves to play CIA, an investigation nevertheless commenced, so that the league could announce the “findings” at a preferred moment.
But compared to other disciplinary decisions, Roger’s choice to go soft on John Mara’s Giants is notably in a world of its own.
–Former Browns general manager Ray Farmer was suspended four games after sending a text message to team personnel on the sideline during a game. The team was fined $250,000, but operating for a quarter of the season without the man in charge of the franchise was a much stiffer penalty than any dollar amount could present.
–The Atlanta Falcons were found guilty to have been blasting artificial crowd noise through their stadium’s speakers. For this, the NFL stripped the Falcons of a fifth-round pick and fined the team $350,000. Team president Rich McKay was suspended — albeit briefly — from his position on the competition committee.
–When the NFL determined that the Kansas City Chiefs had tampered with free agent Jeremy Maclin before signing the receiver, the league stripped the team of two draft picks — a third-rounder and a sixth-rounder — for the offense, which typically is not policed in that fashion.
–The Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins were held accountable for exceeding an imaginary salary cap during the 2010 season. The league decided to limit the spending abilities of those teams by lowering their actual salary cap figure in 2012 and 2013. The fact that these two teams were punished harshly and also are divisional rivals of John Mara’s Giants now has to be examined a little more closely.
And of course, there is the little matter of the New England Patriots. For standing in the wrong location while filming coaches who were standing out in the open, Roger Goodell stripped the Patriots of a first-round pick, fined Bill Belichick $500,000 and fined the team $250,000.
(Adjusted for inflation, that was the NFL saying that filming coaches who are standing on sidelines was 11 times worse than using an illegal means of communication in the middle of a football game.)
Seven years later, a team that lost the AFC title game by 38 points accused the Patriots of using deflated footballs. Goodell immediately placed the full power of the mighty NFL behind an investigation, one with a conclusion reached before the first investigative phone call ever had been made.
And the result of that sham of an investigation, as you well know, was the loss of a first-round pick, the loss of a fourth-round pick, a $1 million fine, and an unprecedented four-game suspension to quarterback Tom Brady.
And instead of mitigating the punishment by ensuring that the Patriots would drop no more than 12 spots in a middle round, the NFL actually included language that prevented the team from acquiring another first-round draft pick via trade.
All of this was done under the guise of a commitment to upholding and preserving the integrity of the game.
But what if a man whose father was league royalty owns a team that runs reckless of directives the league holds dear? Well, when that happens, “integrity” takes a brief respite.
This season, Goodell was found to have been circumventing the domestic violence policy that he himself created, overlooking a wanton act of sticking needles into footballs on a sideline during a game, and slapping on the wrist a team that violated a black and white rule in front of a national TV audience.
Instead of getting out in front of his dear friend running amok, Roger is hiding, nowhere to be found, unlikely to speak publicly until he hand-selects his inquisitors at his “State of the NFL” live-action PR seminar before the Super Bowl.
He can remain in his bunker and wait until everything blows over — and realistically, it will. But he can’t run from the fact that Mara and Goodell are loyal to each other, and that none of this appears to be on the level.
Because it is not.
With Roger, it’s now beyond clear: If you cross him and you are not among the chosen, then he will utilize endless resources and millions of dollars to punish you for daring to question his integrity. Unless you’re a close ally, of course. Then you must be punished a minimal amount, as to keep up appearances, but not for much else.
Goodell is a man who went to great lengths to spew platitudes about how his DeflateGate vendetta was not personal, that it was an objective quest to preserve and uphold the “integrity of the game.”
From Roger’s mouth to your ears:
“The integrity of the game is the most important thing. The integrity of the game is something we will always protect. The rules apply to everybody. That is my job in particular, to make sure everyone from our players to our coach, to our fans and our partners, that they all recognize we’re going to play by these sets of rules, and that’s part of our values and standards.”
–Roger Goodell, August 2015
“I am not going to hand off the integrity of the NFL to somebody who does not understand our business. That is what we’re going to maintain when it comes to the integrity of the game. Maybe something as it relates to the drug program and whether proper protocol is followed? I get it. Go ahead. Somebody else can make that decision. But when it comes to integrity of the game, that is the commissioner’s responsibilities and has been since the day the NFL was formed.”
–Roger Goodell, April 2016
“We think it’s important that the commissioner protect the integrity of the game, that you can’t entrust that to someone who has no understanding of our business, and the appellate court yesterday reaffirmed that. So we think this is an important element of our success. We obviously have changed our discipline process through the years and we will continue to do that if we think it’s in the best interests of the NFL.”
–Roger Goodell, April 2016
“My first obligation, as you know Rich, is to uphold the integrity of the game. That’s to uphold the rules of the game and make sure all 32 teams are operating under the same rules, all players are operating under the same rules, and you do that on a consistent basis. I have great admiration for Tom. I know him personally. Obviously I respect his playing ability — he’s an extraordinary player, a sure Hall of Famer — and I have nothing but admiration for him. But I have to make sure that we continue to do the things that are necessary to protect the integrity of the game and I will do that without compromise.”
—Roger Goodell, February 2016
“We have the responsibility to protect the integrity of the league. Whether we have an owner that’s being investigated, whether we have a commissioner that’s being investigated, they’re being done at the highest level of integrity and quality.”
–Roger Goodell, January 2015
“My thoughts are that this is my job. This is my responsibility – to protect the integrity of the game. I represent 32 teams. All of us want to make sure that the rules are being followed, and if we have any information where the potential is that those rules were violated, I have to pursue that and I have to pursue that aggressively. This is my job. This is a job of the league office. It is what all 32 clubs expect and what I believe our partners, our fans expect. We will do so vigorously, and it is important for it to be fair.”
–Roger Goodell, January 2015
It is important* to be fair.
With a chance in this instance to provide some consistency, to prove that he is not a subordinate to the mighty Mara family, Goodell has punted. A light fine, and the shifting of a draft pick. Roger couldn’t even bring himself to take the draft pick away; he could only move it down a few slots.
That’ll teach ’em, Rog. Way to lay down the law, sheriff.
In fairness, an all-out offensive on the Giants and McAdoo would probably be over the top, the type of preoccupation that we all complained about for 18 months and don’t particularly need to see take place again.
But when a blatantly obvious rules violation is treated significantly softer than an accusation that has proven to be much more false than true, it’s clear that the commissioner doesn’t care one iota about the integrity of the game.
We were all made to believe that PSI actually mattered. We were sold text messages and “Deflator” nicknames and hints at “inducements” and comparisons to PED use and sizzling details of a smashed cell phone. We were made to believe all of this was actually important to the commissioner. It was not.
He cared about none of it; the man was just out for a pound of flesh. He cares much more about how quickly an accused party is willing to bend down and kiss the ring. And even then, that’s often not enough.
The commissioner, quite simply, has no clothes. Everyone knows it … but for Roger himself.
Like so much about the man who lacks any leadership traits yet still holds the keys to the billion dollar enterprise, all of Goodell’s words have been proven to be empty.