BOSTON (CBS) — Roger Goodell is taking his ball and going home, and there is nothing you can do to stop him.
That’s the message I took away from the commissioner’s 1,200-plus-word letter to the NFLPA, in which Goodell concluded that he need not recuse himself as the arbitrator in Tom Brady’s appeal hearing. Rather than assign a truly neutral, independent, qualified party (read: A judge, or someone who possesses a law degree) to hear the appeal, Goodell is choosing to hide behind the CBA to assert his own power.
Rather than doing what is — objectively — fair and right, Goodell is stomping his feet and declaring total control.
All in the name of “integrity.”
The irony is thick.
For Brady, this development certainly does not bode well — at least not in the short term. Though Goodell claims that his “mind is open” and that he is not “wedded to [Ted Wells’ investigative team’s] conclusions or to their assessment of the facts,” Goodell’s decision and overarching message says the complete opposite.
If Brady thought this was going to be easy, he now finds the opposition digging in its heels.
It seems — seems — as though this is the first major step in guaranteeing that if Brady wants to fight this four-game suspension all the way down to zero, he’s going to have to take it to court. Though Goodell threw in a couple of claims of impartiality, the other 1,200 words resound much louder.
The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe posted the entire letter on Tuesday afternoon, and with that, here are a few sections of Goodell’s letter that stood out. They’re listed in the order they’re written.
“Based on the unambiguous language and structure of the CBA, as well as common sense, I conclude that none of the arguments advanced by the NFLPA has merit.”
This is a situation that has defied “common sense” from the very get-go. I suppose there’s a first time for everything, but now is an odd time to invoke common sense, and this is a most curious way to exercise it.
“First, the NFLPA argues that I may not serve as hearing officer because Mr. Brady’s discipline letter was signed by NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent rather than by me. I disagree. The identity of the person who signed the disciplinary letter is irrelevant.”
Roger Goodell had two full weeks to respond to the NFLPA’s request to recuse himself, and yet he still used careless language in saying “The identity of the person who signed the disciplinary letter is irrelevant.”
Irrelevant? It is extremely relevant that Vincent signed the letter, because it allowed you to be able to hear this appeal as a “neutral” party. It was not an accident. After getting your decisions thrown back in your face by independent arbitrators in recent cases, you did what you had to do to postpone that from happening again for as long as you possibly can.
By stating Vincent’s signature on the discipline letter is irrelevant, Goodell is once again insulting the intelligence of anyone reading his words.
“There can be no dispute that this is an appeal of Commissioner discipline.”
That’s what Goodell claims. This is his punishment. Yet two weeks ago in San Francisco, he said this:
“Our staff – led by Troy Vincent, who handles these matters on a regular basis and has all spring – immediately began meetings. I participated in some of those meetings so I understood the discussion that they were having. Troy made a recommendation. I authorized him to go ahead and issue that as I do in every other case.”
Keep that in mind as we read this from Goodell’s Tuesday letter:
“I did not delegate my disciplinary authority to Mr. Vincent; I concurred in his recommendation and authorized him to communicate to Mr. Brady the discipline imposed under my authority as Commissioner.”
Think about what he’s saying, just two weeks apart. In San Francisco, he merely sat in on a couple of meetings so that he knew what was going on with Vincent’s decision-making. Now, he was the sole decider in Brady’s discipline? He treated Vincent’s recommendation as just that — a recommendation — but ultimately came up with the decision on his own?
OK, if we take that at face value, what Goodell is saying is this: I did not have intimate, detailed knowledge of the offenses committed because I only sat in on a few meetings, yet I deemed myself to have known enough to issue an unprecedented four-game suspension to a player. Vincent only made a recommendation, but this punishment was all mine … even though, again, I was not intimately involved in the decision-making process.
That should make the players feel supreme confidence in the discipline process going forward, don’t you think?
Roger Goodell, ladies and gentlemen. If he had a third end of his mouth, he’d talk out of that, too.
“Second, the NFLPA argues that recusal is required because it believes that I may be a ‘necessary’ and/or ‘central’ witness in the appeal proceeding. I have carefully considered this argument and reject its premise. I am not a necessary or even an appropriate witness, much less a ‘central witness’ as the NFLPA contends.”
So, if the NFLPA wanted to ask the commissioner why his employees leaked false information to the largest sports news outlet in the country, the union can’t ask him? That doesn’t matter to this case? Misconduct among league officials must be explained by said officials’ boss. That boss is Roger Goodell, a man who doesn’t believe himself to be an appropriate witness in the upcoming hearing.
“Accordingly, there is no basis upon which I could properly be asked to testify in the appeal proceeding, which under Article 46 of the CBA is designed to afford Mr. Brady an opportunity to bring new or additional facts or circumstances to my attention for consideration.”
Goodell is saying that Brady can’t call witnesses. Instead, he can only provide new facts or circumstances. That’s despite the fact that none of Brady’s explanations given to the investigative team were deemed to be truthful by Wells. Despite Brady being “totally cooperative” and answering every question asked of him, Wells deemed Brady to be a liar. And now “new or additional facts or circumstances” are going to … what? They’re going to change the whole story? Why would they?
If Brady’s portrayal of the facts was deemed to be a lie the first time, why would it suddenly be considered truthful?
“Third, the NFLPA argues that recusal is required because I have ‘prejudged’ the matter and cannot fairly evaluate the potential testimony of league staff members. After carefully considering this argument, I reject it.”
Oh, this is a good one.
Throughout this entire endeavor, which is now going on five months, Goodell has done not one thing to cast even one ounce of fault on even one league employee. Not one thing. Not on Walt Anderson for losing the footballs and, once finding the footballs, failing to measure them or replace them with the backup footballs. Not on Mike Kensil/David Gardi/James Daniel/Dean Blandino/Alberto Riveron for failing to properly address a concern raised by the Colts in the week leading up to the game, thereby allowing the integrity of the game to be compromised. Not on anyone in the process for not knowing the simple science that the air pressure in footballs changes in different environments. Not even on Scott Miller, the employee who was fired for stealing memorabilia but managed to only have that information come up as a quick footnote in the Wells report.
In San Francisco, when pressed on the false leaks coming from his office, Goodell meekly dodged the question. Instead of taking ownership of the obvious misconduct from his own employees, he deferred any and all responsibility to Ted Wells’ investigation. It was, in a word, pathetic.
So, yes, Roger, I’m sure you can fairly evaluate your own staff’s testimony. You’ve been doing a great job of that all along.
“I have publicly expressed my appreciation to Mr. Wells and his colleagues for their thorough and independent work. But that does not mean that I am wedded to their conclusions or to their assessment of the facts.”
So what did you pay (a rumored) $5 million for?
Who was in communication with Wells throughout the process? Who paid Wells? Who paid the man who led the investigation into the alleged conduct detrimental to the integrity of the game? Who imposed discipline on the player in question? How is he not a witness?
“I very much look forward to hearing from Mr. Brady and to considering any new information or evidence that he may bring to my attention. My mind is open; there has been no ‘prejudgment’ and no bias that warrants recusal.”
You hired a high-priced lawyer to run an investigation. You agreed to accept his findings. You praised his work as thorough. And you are going to suddenly dismiss all of that work? All of those millions of dollars, gone, spent on nothing? You’re going to, for the first time in this whole situation, do what’s right?
“Because protecting the integrity of the game is the Commissioner’s most important responsibility, I decline to rewrite our Collective Bargaining Agreement to abrogate my authority and ‘discretion’ to hear ‘any appeal’ in a conduct detrimental proceeding.”
He can use the CBA to say what he wants, just like the NFLPA twisted the words of the CBA to make its point. Both sides can fight over the manipulation of language in the CBA, but it ultimately has nothing to do with what is so obviously right and fair.
“The motion for recusal is denied.”
Got it, Roger. Loud and clear.