By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Roger Goodell won in federal court. But that’s not enough for him.
Somehow in the commissioner’s brain, he can still come out of this fiasco smelling like roses, being incorruptible as opposed to incorrigible.
The problem is, Roger, that we’re not as stupid as you seem to think.
Appearing on “CBS This Morning” on Thursday, Goodell was asked to respond to Saints quarterback Drew Brees stating he has no trust in any league-led investigations.
The complete answer, posted below, was baffling:
“Well it’s very simple here. In this case, we had an independent counsel look at this case. They went through all the facts. We did not participate in that. We cooperated, of course. We looked for cooperation from the team and the other individuals; we got some of that. So there was an independent investigation on this and an independent report that was presented to me. And that’s what we based the judgment off of. And then we had a hearing, we had a process that is articulated in our collective-bargaining agreement that has been there for several decades.”
Independent. He keeps using that word. I do not think it means what he thinks it means.
Mind you, for months and months and months, Goodell and Ted Wells screamed from the mountaintop that the investigative work by the latter was INDEPENDENT. Wells actually got flustered on a conference call with reporters when someone dared question his INDEPENDENCE, saying, “I totally reject any suggestion that I was not independent or that the report in some way was slanted to reach a particular result.”
On that same conference call, which took place last May, Wells also said, “I am sitting here with Lorin Reisner, my law partner who worked on the investigation with me.”
One month later, at the fair and impartial NFL appeal hearing, who was it that the NFL called upon to cross-examine the central witness in Tom Brady?
Why, that would be Lorin Reisner, he of the “independent” investigation.
With so much at stake, Goodell gamed the system so that he could serve as the arbitrator to rule on his own decision, and the person he trusted to execute the most important role in that process was Lorin Reisner, who, according to Wells’ own words, “worked on the investigation.” The “independent” investigation.
And — and! — Wells himself unveiled a bit of a bombshell when he was questioned during Brady’s appeal hearing by stating that NFL general counsel Jeff Pash edited drafts of Wells’ report as well as the final report before it went public.
Pash is the executive vice president and general counsel of the National Football League. He was given the “independent” report to make edits, and even Wells himself does not know what changes were made to the final report. Yet right now, in April 2016, Roger Goodell wants to claim that this report was “independent.”
But none of that even needs to be said, because the NFL itself, despite months of touting the independence of this report, admitted in federal court that any such distinction is not important.
In his filing with the Second Circuit, attorney Paul Clement wrote this:
“Most of [the NFLPA’s] argument is based on vague innuendo about whether the Wells Report was sufficiently ‘independent,’ but that issue is irrelevant.”
And in the first go-round in federal court, in the case before Judge Richard Berman, the NFL stated this:
“The debate about the independence of the investigation has no bearing on whether the NFLPA had an adequate opportunity to present evidence at the hearing, which is all that the CBA and fundamental fairness require. Furthermore, Article 46 does not require an ‘independent’ investigation prior to the imposition of discipline, and indeed it is commonplace for NFL personnel other than the Commissioner to investigate the problematic conduct.”
Translated: It’s very important that this investigation be considered “independent,” unless of course we are cornered in a courtroom, in which case we will diminish the significance of “independence.” But then, once the court case is over, we will trumpet the remarkable and unparalleled independence of this very independent investigation.
If you’re having trouble following the doublespeak, that’s exactly what Goodell was hoping.
But, sadly, there is more deceit and half-truth to be found in the brief four-minute interview from “CBS This Morning.”
“So there was an independent investigation on this and an independent report that was presented to me. And that’s what we based the judgment off of.”
Here, Goodell is saying that his punishment decision (he uses the word “we” at all times because he doesn’t like bearing any responsibility for anything) was based on the conclusions of the Wells report. It’s a curious claim, because in the Second Circuit filing, the NFL stated this:
“The Wells Report was designed to give the Commissioner a basis to draw his own conclusions from the extensive record, not to limit him to the conclusions of the Report.”
So, no, the decision was not based wholly on the “independent” Wells report.
But wait! When Goodell initially issued the punishment, he said he did wholly rely on the “independent” Wells report:
“On May 11, 2015, relying on the factual findings and evidentiary record details in the Wells Report … I authorized the suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady.”
While this part of the story has clearly shifted from one side to the other countless times over the past 16 months, we at least now know that the “independent” Wells report was the sole guide for Goodell in issuing the discipline (even though Troy Vincent issued the punishment but also then did not issue the punishment because that’s against the rules of the CBA but, eh, don’t get too bogged down in those details. Instead, focus on the upcoming NFL draft! Wow! So many prospects!).
Goodell’s relatively brief time getting “grilled” resulted in plenty of more opportunities to catch a glimpse inside his self-righteous thought process. When asked about being judge, jury and executioner, he chose not to directly answer but instead recited a Wikipedia timeline of events.
“We did not participate in that. We cooperated, of course. We looked for cooperation from the team and the other individuals; we got some of that.”
In case you couldn’t catch the passive-aggressiveness, Goodell was chiding the Patriots and Brady for their lack of cooperation. Mind you, this is the leader of an organization that has not admitted to one single misstep in this entire ordeal. That’s a remarkable accomplishment, considering Troy Vincent admitted that when he and his clown car of NFL executives rolled into the officials’ locker room that Sunday night in Gillette, exactly zero of them knew that the PSI of footballs would change when the balls were moved between different atmospheric conditions.
Here’s some testimony from Vincent, being questioned by Jeffrey Kessler, right in front of Goodell, last June:
Kessler: So prior to this game, OK, had you ever heard of the Ideal Gas Law?
Vincent: No, sir.
Kessler: Do you know if anyone in the NFL Game-Day Operations had ever discussed the impact of the Ideal Gas Law in testing footballs?
Vincent: Not with me.
Kessler: You had never heard of that?
Vincent: I hadn’t.
Kessler: OK. Now, in the procedures that were set up prior to this game, OK, were there ever any procedures where the referees were told they should record temperature inside the room while they were testing each football? Do you know if that was ever an instruction given to the referees that they should write down temperature or take temperature?
Vincent: No, sir.
Kessler: OK. That was not done?
Vincent: No, sir.
Kessler: Did officials have instructions prior to this game as to whether they should use a logo gauge or a non-logo gauge to test?
Vincent: Not to my knowledge.
Kessler: OK. Were they asked to record anywhere in writing which gauge they used when they were doing testing?
Vincent: Not to my knowledge.
Kessler: Now, with respect to whether the balls were wet or dry, do you know if there were any procedures prior to this to record if a ball was wet or dry at the time it was being tested for pressure?
Vincent: No, sir.
Kessler: OK. How about the timing of when the testing was done? Was it ever instructed you should record what minutes the test was done so you could see how long the ball was in the room at the time of testing?
Vincent: No, sir.
Goodell, the “independent” arbitrator, tried to interfere as he saw his right-hand man getting hung out to dry by an intelligent attorney, but to no avail. Eventually, the conversation landed here:
Kessler: And the reason for no one doing this is because neither you nor anyone else was thinking about the Ideal Gas Law or how time or temperature or wetness my affect these readings, right?
Correct. Nobody at the league office knew anything about science. And, perhaps after consulting some people who actually took physics in high school, the league realized it didn’t really have any evidence that the footballs were out of range. Later, they’d hang on the cell phone/non-cooperation story as their chief piece of evidence, because they realized they had none elsewhere.
But in the meanwhile, the league had a scandal to build. So the league leaked false PSI numbers to ESPN and also sent false PSI numbers to the Patriots in order to get the team to open their doors to an investigation.
Dave Gardi, the NFL’s senior VP of football operations, wrote a letter to the Patriots stating that a football was measured at 10.1 PSI. In fact, no football had been recorded that low. This was a bald-faced lie written by an NFL executive to an NFL team in order to facilitate the commencement of an “independent” investigation.
And despite Goodell’s insistence that Wells was instructed to investigate the NFL for any potential missteps, there was no mention of the false numbers being leaked to the NFL and there were no interviews conducted toward that end. Zero actions taken by NFL employees were examined critically by Wells, including two instances of blatantly false information being spread by the NFL in the early days of the “scandal.”
Yet … Goodell is wagging his finger at the Patriots and Brady for some cooperation, as if they’re in the wrong for having suspicions about the intentions of the “independent” investigation.
There was, yet, still more in the interview.
When asked point-blank if he has too much power (drawing a chuckle out of Charlie Rose, who uttered, “I can’t wait to hear this“), Goodell said:
“This is a process that’s been in place for several decades and is something that’s important to the league.”
Yes and no.
It’s been in place for several decades but it’s never once been abused so clearly by any previous commissioner. That’s probably because they never used a potential violation of a largely insignificant possible violation as an opportunity to prove they were powerful disciplinarians. If they ever made a decision, they believed in its foundation enough to rely on the findings of a truly neutral third party to arbitrate any disputes. They never played tic-tac-toe with the CBA to use a guy like Vincent to “authorize” punishment so that they could ultimately serve as the prosecutor and the judge in the same case.
And, when Goodell says it’s “something that’s important to the league,” what he really means is that it’s “something that’s important to Roger Goodell.” Nobody benefits from Goodell being an almighty ruler aside from Goodell himself.
Goodell was asked if he’s spoken to Robert Kraft or Tom Brady since “DeflateGate” exploded. He enthusiastically replied yes, he has spoken to the Krafts. He did not answer the question about Brady.
When pressed to explain the high costs of the whole saga (reportedly over $20 million), Goodell conveniently couldn’t hear the question. That didn’t get him out of having to answer it, because the question was asked again. He answered:
“Well this wasn’t about the actual violation. This was about the rights that we had negotiated in our collective-bargaining agreement, that we had in our collective-bargaining agreement. And we wanted to make sure that we retained. If we decide to negotiate with the union on those issues and be able to trade those, that’s certainly within the rights of both the management and the players to do that. But this is something about retaining those rights that we negotiated.”
Roger. You cannot be serious.
What Roger fails to acknowledge (or pretends to not realize) is this: If you don’t have employees who severely fudge the measurements that are critical to your case, if you don’t live in a state of denial about your organization’s blunders and lies throughout the process, and if you do have one iota of humility in your body, then you can avoid making this a case about the rights in the CBA and you can avoid wasting $20 million on fighting for it. Because it never had to happen, and it never had to go as far as the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (and perhaps beyond).
Of course, nobody would expect Roger to understand that. This has been and always will be a case of the commissioner going to extreme lengths to boost his own power and perceived credibility, but based on reaction around the league this week, it may be backfiring.
If you thought Goodell was power-hungry and unreasonable before, his first extensive public comments since being empowered by the Second Circuit seem to indicate he’s as emboldened as he’s ever been. That is to say, his confidence and self-assurance is as out of whack with reality as ever.