By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — When assessing a news item in the modern era of 24/7 coverage, one must always take note of the day and time of a story’s release. And so, when a potentially unfavorable story enters the news cycle on a Friday evening smack dab in the middle of summer, one’s antennae should instantly be raised — especially when it involves the NFL and domestic violence.
That was the case this past Friday, when Deadspin reported via a “source with knowledge” of the Ezekiel Elliott domestic violence investigation that commissioner Roger Goodell has not been involved in the process.
“In fact, Goodell has distanced himself so much from this case that he hasn’t been present for any of the disciplinary hearings involving Elliott, according to the source,” reported Dom Cosentino in a story that published just after 5 p.m. on Friday.
Shortly after the story went live, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy informed Deadspin that the league’s personal conduct policy “allows for the commissioner to absent himself from the disciplinary process if he so chooses.”
It is a most curious route for Goodell, if true, as the commissioner has previously declared himself to be the driving force in a league that suddenly understood in 2014 that domestic violence was indeed a bad thing in this world. Prior to 2014, the NFL didn’t quite understand this. But after the embarrassment that was the Ray Rice cover-up, Goodell stepped forward and deemed himself to be the face of a league that would never again stand for such a thing.
Goodell placed Adrian Peterson on the commissioner’s exempt list in September of 2014 for admitting to beating his son with a tree branch. Goodell also placed Giants kicker Josh Brown on that same commissioner’s exempt list last year after the public learned what the NFL almost assuredly had already known about the kicker’s history of abusing his wife.
The background on the commissioner’s exempt list is this: “The List includes those players who have been declared by the Commissioner to be temporarily exempt from counting within the Active List limit. Only the Commissioner has the authority to place a player on the Exempt List … . The Commissioner also has the authority to determine in advance whether a player’s time on the Exempt List will be finite or will continue until the Commissioner deems the exemption should be lifted and the player returned to the Active List.”
Clearly, if a player lands on this list, he does so at the behest of Goodell and Goodell only. This has been an image that Goodell has carefully chosen to maintain.
Of course, within that public image of taking a hard stance against domestic violence, Goodell and the NFL made a number of giant missteps. The most significant involved Brown. Despite a long history of domestic abuse that included NFL security protecting his family while at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, Goodell absolved Brown from having to serve Goodell’s own specially instituted mandatory six-game suspension. Brown was suspended just one game … until a football reporter uncovered a series of documents that showed the depths of Brown’s behavior. After that, the NFL reacted to the public outcry and placed the kicker on the exempt list, but not before Goodell condescendingly defended himself against those critical of his work in the matter.
“I understand the public’s misunderstanding of those things and how that can be difficult for them to understand how we get to those positions,” Goodell declared.
This comment was given to the BBC, as Goodell dodged all American media in the wake of the chilling news on Brown.
That Goodell and Giants owner John Mara are considered very close friends did not go unnoticed when the commissioner allowed the Giants kicker to serve just 17 percent of the “mandatory” six-game suspension.
That the NFL’s hand-picked “senior VP of investigations” tasked with leading the search into domestic violence accusations is a proud and outspoken Giants fan also seemed relevant to the matter.
“She’s the sort of fan who turned the den of her Brooklyn home into a shrine (painting it Giants blue and red and decorating it with team paraphernalia and a life-size wall-hanging of Eli Manning), boasts season tickets that have been in her family for more than 60 years, and cheers her lungs out at every game at MetLife Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands,” the Daily Beast reported in 2014.
Clearly, just as they did two years prior with Ray Rice, the NFL and Goodell botched the Brown situation rather badly.
So perhaps it is best that Goodell keeps himself at a distance during the extraordinarily lengthy Elliott investigation.
Yet, Goodell also kept his distance when Greg Hardy sought reinstatement to the NFL. Goodell did not attend Hardy’s reinstatement hearing, which essentially served as an open forum for Hardy’s representatives to smear the victim. The league ruled to suspend Hardy for 10 games; Hardy appealed, and an arbitrator hand-picked by Goodell elected to reduce the suspension by 60 percent. Goodell did not display any interest in appealing that ruling by the arbitrator, as he was neck-deep in fighting to preserve the integrity of the PSI level of footballs during that time.
In 2014, after the mishandling of the Ray Rice situation blew up in his face, Goodell said this: “I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”
A year later, when an arbitrator reduced the NFL’s suspension on Hardy from 10 games to four games, Goodell did nothing.
And now, with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reportedly inserting himself into the Elliott investigation and apparently being kept up to date with all of its developments, Goodell is once again taking a back seat in a domestic violence investigation involving a marquee player on the most valuable sports franchise in the world.
For the man who promised to take responsibility for the league’s direction with regard to domestic violence, Goodell certainly has a unique way of showing his personal investment in the matter.