By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston


BOSTON (CBS) — From the very moment he took the job as commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell has stressed his mission, his duty, his undying desire to “protect the shield” at any and all costs. Protecting the shield — and, consequently, the integrity of the game — has always been paramount to Goodell in his own mind. Nothing could possibly be more important than protecting the shield.

Yet in 2014, when Ray Rice knocked out his wife with a punch to her head, Goodell hid behind the shield, accepting no accountability for his own indefensible actions.

And in 2015, he’s spent the first eight months of the year using the shield to repeatedly bludgeon the league’s most accomplished superstar over the head.

The shield is hogwash. And Roger Goodell is full of it.

Make no mistake: There is plenty of blame to be thrown around for this never-ending soap opera, and some of that goes to the Patriots and some of it goes to Tom Brady. While the Patriots had reason to react furtively and inimically when some bloodthirsty members of the NFL office pursued them with the aggression of DEA agents raiding a druglord’s home, Robert Kraft’s decision to publicly demand an apology from the NFL might have been too emotional of a response. And though Brady’s head was likely buzzing in the wake of a false leak from NFL employees to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, he could have been more direct or sincere in his press conference when he faced a ridiculous firing squad from the national media.

But the simple fact of “DeflateGate,” as it is so sadly known, is that a competent, fair and reasonable commissioner would have ended the story before it ever began. Before the Patriots’ plane even departed for Phoenix in late January, any sane commissioner would have ruled, simply, “The Colts’ suspicions have been noted, though it is impossible for us to prove any wrongdoing. We will fine the Patriots, because their footballs were under the allowable limits and we have our suspicions of how they got there, and we will continue to monitor their pregame handling of the footballs in the future. We will also reevaluate our own protocols and practices for handling footballs before games so that any potential misconduct cannot take place.”

It really would have been that simple — dead after 72 hours in the spotlight.

Yet here we all are, 215 days later, and Goodell continues to drag this situation to its bitter end.

And for what? For what?

This stopped being about the PSI level in footballs long, long ago. It wasn’t ever about the PSI level in footballs, really. If it was about the PSI level in footballs, then referee Walt Anderson would have taken the bag of 12 backup footballs out of his locker room and onto the field for game use. If the footballs were markedly different from any other football used in any other football game, then one of the officials who handled the footballs between every single snap would have noticed something.

This is, quite obviously, not about the air pressure in footballs, and any action potentially taken by Patriots employees toward lessening that air pressure would have been a misdemeanor. Goodell instead decided to treat it as a felony, in the process inspiring everyone in the country to casually attach the word “cheater” to the name of arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the sport of football.

Never once has Goodell or the league even slightly worked to manage this perception, despite the fact that it is not cheating. If potential knowledge about footballs which were possibly ever-so-slightly less inflated than the arbitrary range determined prior to World War II constitutes cheating to you, then there may never have been an honest accomplishment achieved in your lifetime. If you’re convinced that Brady — again, arguably the greatest player to ever throw a football — needs air taken out of footballs in order to get a better grip on the ball … then maybe you should be up in arms that quarterbacks, running backs and receivers are all allowed to wear gloves with the stickiest surface you can imagine. If those gloves so much as get a drop of water on them, they can simply toss on a fresh pair of gloves.

Odell Beckham Jr. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Odell Beckham Jr. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Cheater!

You should also be irate that ball boys in facilities around the country are vigorously scrubbing the hell out of footballs this summer in order to get them prepared for the regular season.

But you aren’t. You simply don’t care about these things. You never did before Jan. 18, and you still don’t really. For that matter, even the NFL never cared before that night. Because at the end of the day, everybody knows that the sport of football is decided by so, so much more than the actual football itself.

Not, however, according to Goodell.

According to Goodell, there is nothing more important than the air pressure in footballs, and he’s willing to fight to the death over this extraordinarily serious issue. Despite a catalog of offenses committed by the commissioner himself, despite his employees committing actions far more devious than what the Patriots employees might have done, despite a federal judge telling his lawyers about the bold breaches of fairness, and despite every bit of common sense dictating that the league should not be entangled in a court case with a superstar over such a trivial issue, Goodell continues to fight. And he refuses to budge: Four games, commissioner’s decision, case closed.

We stacked the deck against you for your appeal hearing yet you still managed to hammer home a number of fair, reasonable arguments? Tough luck; I’m upholding my own awful decision.

So you offered to take a one-game suspension and end this entire debacle? Why don’t you take your offer and go cry to the judge? We’re simply not listening. We’ll choose to stand by our incredibly flawed, inherently biased “independent” investigation, thank you very much.

Goodell has bungled this from day one, and now instead of even trying to feign a shred of reasonability, he is still going for the kill, refusing to budge despite having a case that is being publicly torn apart by a federal judge.

The NFL’s only response has been, in sum, Even though we filed this suit in New York, you have no authority over us, so you are forced to let us do whatever we want.

It’s really been an embarrassing situation, seeing Goodell treat Brady like a hardened criminal, especially when you consider the complete and utter lack of accountability the commissioner has had for the past 12 months. He went soft on Ray Rice, lied about what he knew, tried to save face and failed. He spent millions of NFL dollars to get an “independent” investigator to run some computer scans to clear his name and keep his job.

In Brady’s case, he lied about what Brady said during the appeal hearing and pleaded to keep the transcript of that hearing sealed so that nobody could ever read it, only to have the judge order that transcript to be released to the public. He never once ordered anybody to correct the record when a false report of PSI measurements kicked the story into a full-on scandal, and to this day he continues to take no accountability for that remarkable failure to lead. He thumped his chest every chance he got to tout the “independence” of Ted Wells, only to have that same Ted Wells defer to attorney-client privilege during the appeal process. The NFL has since claimed that the NFLPA’s attack on Wells’ complete lack of independence is a “red herring,” despite the fact that it was Goodell who contrived the fairy tale of Wells’ “independence” in the first place.

And again, the question has to come up: Why?

The commissioner will say it’s about the integrity of the game, that it’s about protecting the shield, that it’s about the absolute, incontrovertible powers granted to him in Article 46 of the CBA.

Ironically, the NFL’s attorney has argued with the judge many times that ultimately, this case comes down to Goodell’s judgment. Yet the longer this idiocy drags on, and the more these sides meet with the judge in public, we are all learning exactly how poor Goodell’s judgment really is. Perhaps the NFL ought to rethink its strategy.

If we all took a step back out of the constant debating about this nonsense situation, we’d realize that Goodell is going at Brady 10 times harder than anyone before. He’s dedicating a laughable level of resources toward the inflation level of footballs, yet he tried to sweep concussion studies under the rug for the first five years of his tenure, which was truly despicable. He — and the owners who employ him — had no real issue with giving a wife beater a mere two-week ban from work just last year, only to come out of the fiasco pretending to be suddenly enlightened that punching women is a bad thing for a man to do. And now he’s throwing all reason and precedent out the window so that he can continue on this self-serving power crusade.

It’s all utterly pathetic.

Look, the whole thing started because the Patriots probably let some air out of some footballs in January. But that is not why we’re sitting here in late August talking about Brady vs. Goodell. We’re sitting here because a number of NFL employees ran amok when “handling” the situation, and we’re sitting here because integrity has been sorely lacking from the man who should be leading.

A key element of someone with integrity is to be fair and to be rational. Goodell’s proven to have neither trait. If he did, we would not be where we are right now.

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

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