By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston


BOSTON (CBS) — Integrity.

Integrity.

Integrity.

INTEGRITY!

This is the word spewed as often as possible from the mouths of any NFL executive whenever they’re asked to speak.

What about this? Integrity.

What about that? Integrity.

Do you like cheeseburgers? Integrity … with ketchup and mustard.

The question doesn’t necessarily have to lend itself to having anything to do with “integrity,” but sure enough, the conversation will always circle back to that one buzzword.

Integrity.

So it’s no surprise that when NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent took time to talk with ESPN’s Ashley Fox, the “I word” made a fast and furious entrance into the conversation.

Fox asked Vincent what his job duties entail. He didn’t really answer with any actual tasks, but he did let you know that he’s all about integrity.

“First and foremost, my role in football operations is to protect the integrity and competitive fairness of the professional sport of football,” Vincent said. “There are several aspects to that, such as establishing a culture of clarity, consistency and credibility to players, coaches, clubs and fans in order to develop the future player, preserve and innovate the game and protect the NFL brand. Beyond that, our goal is to provide a world-class game-day experience for players, coaches and fans through innovation and proactively meeting the demands and challenges of the game and its players.

“Our charge is to change the conversation back to what is right about football by celebrating the value of our greater game to those who play it and to society in general. In essence, my role is to preserve the integrity of the game and position it for measurable and responsible future growth.”

The integrity of the game. That’s what it’s all about.

Vincent has been in the news, of course, since he “recommended” Tom Brady be suspended four games and “recommended” the Patriots be stripped of two draft picks and fined $1 million. Though commissioner Roger Goodell claims to have decided on the punishment himself, the original language of the punishment and Goodell’s own explanation at the owners meetings in San Francisco insinuated that it was Vincent’s call, with Goodell merely approving it. (Since then, Goodell has taken full responsibility for issuing the punishment, because the NFLPA reminded him that — whoops — only he is allowed to issue that type of punishment.)

By now, we’ve all learned that no fewer than a dozen mistakes were made by NFL officials and employees the night of the AFC Championship Game. That much was uncovered in the Wells report, though the NFL has done absolutely nothing to accept any blame for:

Referee Bill Leavy overinflating footballs in Week 7 to 16 PSI

Referee Walt Anderson losing custody of the footballs prior to the championship game, despite being forewarned ahead of time to be on alert

Multiple involved parties leaking news of the “investigation” into the footballs within hours of the game’s conclusion

Multiple NFL employees leaking false information to ESPN about the PSI measurements, and the league’s steadfast refusal to clarify the false information for several months

A complete and utter lack of understanding of basic science

The failure of all involved parties to properly record the measurements and which gauges were used

The head of officiating, Dean Blandino, lying publicly by stating the league did not know of any concerns about footballs until after the game began

That covers some of it, for starters. Instead of accepting blame for any of these actions, the NFL has cast shadows upon Brady and the Patriots, under the guise of “integrity.” Because nothing was proven in the Wells report, we can’t know with certainty whether the Patriots employee took air out of the footballs. It certainly seems like he did, based on the circumstantial evidence, but there’s no questioning that the punishment issued by the league went far overboard — especially considering how poorly the league handled the situation from the start and how many times NFL employees have lied about what took place.

A commissioner with real integrity would have addressed the situation by saying, “Hey, we think something was going on with the footballs, but we can’t be entirely sure. So we’re going to issue a fine, as suggested by the NFL rulebook, and a warning to the Patriots that we’ll be keeping an eye on this. In the meantime, we’ve uncovered a number of holes in our own process that could leave open an opportunity for illicit football manipulation. We’re going to address these issues on our end and remind clubs that they must abide by all NFL rules.”

That would have cleared up “DeflateGate” in a matter of 86 words. But because this commissioner doesn’t like to admit any fault, we are in the sixth month of this “scandal.”

Despite all of this, Vincent is big on integrity. In fact, he wishes that dang NFLPA would stop filing lawsuits against the league. Is it because the league just about always loses those cases, therefore weakening the public perception of Goodell and Co.? No, of course not! What an awful, unfair mind you have. You’ve got no integrity, mister!

Nope — Vincent believes that representing players in their cases against the NFL is a waste of money — money that should be going toward retired and/or injured players that need help.

“Look at the amount of money being spent on legal fees for a handful of people. It’s millions and millions of dollars,” Vincent argued. “We’ve got players that are hurting. We’ve got young men who don’t know how to identify a good financial adviser. Men are in transition who aren’t doing well, and yet $8 [million] to $10 million dollars a year is spent in court fees about who should make a decision on someone, who in some cases has committed a crime.

“Think about that logically. Wouldn’t it be better to spend our time and resources on the issues that are vital to our players — past, present and future — such as the players’ total wellness and growing the game together?”

Excuse me for a moment, but …

OK, I think I’m done, I swear, just …

Sorry about that. But, in all seriousness, Vincent works for an organization that just spent $5 million to investigate the PSI levels of footballs … and failed miserably in that investigation. Not only did $5 million fail to prove anything, it also exposed all of those aforementioned mistakes among NFL employees. And he wants the NFLPA to stop paying legal fees for players who by and large win their appeals against the commissioner … because … I don’t know. Because of integrity. Sure, that works.

And then there’s the second ludicrous takeaway from that statement — the one about the players who are hurting yet not getting money or sound advice from the NFLPA. The NFL makes over $9 billion every year. The NFL makes enough to pay Goodell a salary of $74 million over two years. The NFL makes enough money to essentially light $5 million on fire by hiring Ted Wells to run an “independent investigation” of something that could have been cleared up in a couple of days.

Yet the NFL doesn’t like giving that money to players — especially not injured players, who get released as soon as they tear their knees and are sent back to the real world to try to figure it out on their own. The NFL used up everything they needed out of those guys, and it very quickly moves on to the next guy. The NFL would much prefer the NFLPA take care of those players, because the NFL has much bigger fish to fry (fish which were probably caught on a Sunday afternoon pleasure cruise aboard a league executive’s yacht).

(We could get into the many, many years which the NFL denied the correlation between smashing heads 50 times every Sunday and sustaining concussions, but we don’t have the 10,000 words needed to delve into that topic.)

And here’s one more Troy Vincent quote for the road: “I have come to appreciate the strength of Roger’s character that causes him to rise higher than the ethics of the current environment that all too often seeks to justify and defend indefensible acts.”

(Please scroll back up to the sound effects of hysterical laughter, if you don’t mind.)

Let’s take this one apart word-by-word.

Strength. Of. Roger’s. Character.

Rise. Higher. Than. The. Ethics. Of. The. Current. Environment.

Oh. My God.

Is this the road the NFL really wants to go down? That Roger is some bastion of integrity, that his morality and ethics are unimpeachable, that his decision-making is based solely in what is right?

Are you serious?

Look, Rog himself brought it up last month, but after the country turned on him for his absolutely weak punishment of Ray Rice (who used his fist to knock out his then-fiancee), Goodell lied about what he knew and what he was told. What’s worse, he tried to paint the bad guy (Rice) as a liar, when in fact even a man who knocked out his future wife in an elevator still was more open and honest than the commissioner of the National Football League.

And when questioned under oath (during one of those pesky, frivolous, expensive lawsuits taken up by the NFLPA), he squirmed, claimed to not know the meanings of simple words, and claimed he hadn’t read reports which were presented to him by his staff and which described the incident in detail.

An independent judge ruled that Goodell was lying, and ruled in Rice’s favor.

That’s the man who rises “higher than the ethics of the current environment that all too often seeks to justify and defend indefensible acts”? On what planet?

This is only partially about DeflateGate. I still think the Patriots employee jabbed a needle in those balls, but given the fact that the PSI levels ended up within an explainable range when the air temperature and timing are taking in account, I believe the amount of air released from the footballs was negligible — making this entire soap opera all the more preposterous.

I also admit that, absent any proof of this action, I may be wrong.

One would think that possessing even a modicum of self-awareness of one’s fallibility would figure to be a crucial trait of anyone who claims to have integrity. But that’s not just in the NFL’s definition of the word. In the NFL world, integrity means that everything the league does is right, and it’s foolish to ever doubt that.

After all, folks who say the word “integrity” in every other sentence they speak would never tell a lie, right?

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here. You can email him or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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