By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — One would think that the head honcho of a multi-billion dollar sports league would at the bare minimum be briefed by his subordinates at least once per day on the biggest news stories from his league. And one would think that if, say, members of Congress released a 91-page report that accused his league of interfering in a major way with a medical study performed by a government agency, that commissioner would be at least generally aware of the report’s existence.READ MORE: Baker Signs Bill Extending Mail-In, Early Voting In Massachusetts
Yet, the rules of common sense fly out the window if we’re talking about the NFL.
On Tuesday, one day after ESPN broke the story of the Congressional investigation into the NFL’s interference with the NIH concussion study, commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the media to discuss the announcement of Super Bowl sites in coming years. When the commissioner faced questions about the Congressional report, he pleaded ignorance.
“I didn’t see the report,” Goodell said, straight-faced, claiming he was too busy traveling to Charlotte to see or read the report.
The intended study from the NIH sought to explore the discovery of CTE in living patients. That is, on its surface, a potential discovery that could end up costing the NFL millions of dollars down the line.
Goodell did, however, say he disagreed with the report, which is a bold position to take against something which he had not seen. He claimed — again, straight-faced — that the NFL’s “commitment to medical research is well documented” and that the league’s discussions with the NIH were “normal.”
He also said that the league must “help retire players continue to transition through life in a positive way.”
(The league is currently fighting tooth-and-nail against retired players in court. The retired players seek fair compensation for the damages done to their bodies from playing football. The existence of CTE plays a prominent, central role in their case against the league. The NFL, which is worth tens of billions of dollars, does not want to pay these former players more than it is required to pay them. But at least the commissioner wants to help them transition through life in a positive way. That’s nice.)
The report was quite damning of the NFL, claiming the league sought to remove Dr. Robert Stern from heading the study after the league had committed $16 million to fund the project. When the NFL’s efforts to remove Dr. Stern failed, the league pulled its funding, only to later issue an offer of $2 million in an effort to save face and avoid public backlash.
Yet Roger somehow couldn’t manage to find the time to read the report which paints his league in a horrible, horrible light.
He’s either lying — which, as a point of practice, is not very good to do if one wants to maintain any level of credibility with the public — or he’s telling the truth.
And if he’s telling the truth, it is much, much worse.
The act of raising his hands, shrugging his shoulders and claiming ignorance is becoming a bit of a go-to move for the commissioner. Last October, long after he had fumbled the disciplinary process of Greg Hardy, the commissioner claimed to have no knowledge of some comments from Hardy about women and guns that made headlines and sparked national outrage.
“I am not aware of the comments, so I can’t respond to the comments because I haven’t seen them,” Goodell said in October.
Haven’t seen ’em.
It’s not dissimilar to the way Goodell wiggled his way out of the Ray Rice situation, which at times looked like a surefire path to his inevitable firing. Goodell, of course, went ridiculously soft on Rice after public video showed the star player dragging his unconscious wife out of an elevator. It wasn’t until months later, shortly before the regular season began, that TMZ released video from inside the elevator — video which showed Rice striking his then-fiancee with a closed fist to the side of the head.
The country was appalled (though … did people think she had just fallen asleep in the elevator moments before that original video began?), and Goodell needed to answer for only issuing a four-game suspension for such a heinous, violent crime.READ MORE: Woman In Critical Condition After Being Shot Near Roslindale Pharmacy
I didn’t see it.
Attorney Jeffrey Kessler asked Goodell if the league ever made a formal request to obtain a copy of the video.
Goodell’s response: “[What] does a formal request mean?”
(That’s not a joke. That was his actual response.)
Kessler then asked Goodell if the commissioner was aware that it’s legal to file a request to obtain information, such as that security video.
Goodell replied without answering the question: “I’m not an attorney.”
Kessler continued to pepper the commissioner with questions about whether Goodell knew if his security team had formally requested the video.
Goodell’s answer: “I wasn’t aware of the fact that they tried to get it from law enforcement. I do not know the specifics.”
I do not know the specifics.
That’s the man in charge.
That’s the man issuing rulings.
That’s the man making decisions.
The man saying, under oath, “I do not know the specifics.”
Again, if he’s lying (which he most certainly was), then it’s bad enough. But imagine if he’s telling the truth?
(Barbara Jones, a former federal judge who oversaw the appeal case, did rule that Goodell indeed had been lying about what he knew, as Rice had testified directly to Goodell that he had punched his then-fiancee in the elevator.)
This is a pattern of behavior from a man who’s never been required to answer a question directly and whose response to any question that may make him or his league look bad is to dodge, divert, and bloviate about some wonderful league initiative. And it’s the type of behavior that, perhaps, may finally catch up to him at some point down the line.
But for now, let’s all just hope Roger can carve out a solid 45 minutes to catch up on the NFL news the rest of the world digested a full day earlier.MORE NEWS: Eviction Moratorium Update: With CDC Extension Unlikely, What Will Happen To Renters?