By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is on a power-hungry quest to display his dominance over the peons who make up his league.READ MORE: Teen Who Drowned While Swimming With Friends In Hyde Park Pond Identified
Yet somehow, this time around, he doesn’t seem to have the public on his side.
What has changed?
It was just 19 short months ago when the lovely “scandal” known as DeflateGate was born, a period in which seemingly everybody outside of New England supported the commissioner’s quest to take down Tom Brady and the Patriots. “Flimsy evidence be damned; if the Patriots weren’t doing every single thing asked of them by the league then they must be guilty,” the pitchfork crew chanted.
And, perhaps bolstered by that public support, the commissioner got his man.
Now, though, in his latest crusade to abuse his power by threatening four NFL players with suspensions if they don’t submit themselves to interrogations, Goodell finds himself the target of much of the criticism.
A significant portion of sports media is struggling to fathom how a league that has gathered no credible evidence can threaten suspension solely on the basis of refusing to be interviewed. It’s an idea that contrasts with basic American justice. The accused has the right to remain silent; the burden of proof falls on the prosecution. If the NFL can prove that these players took performance-enhancing drugs, then the NFL has the right to suspend them. If the NFL can’t prove anything and instead relies on arbitrary decisions of a power-mad leader, then we’re setting dangerous precedents.
That’s at least what is to be gathered by taking a look around the country. Here’s a sampling.
Gary Myers, New York Daily News, “NFL players in Al Jazeera PED probe right to dodge Roger Goodell”:
“Presuming guilt because they won’t talk is a leap of faith. … There is a serious lack of trust by so many players for the people who run the NFL. … Can the rest of the AJA 5 trust their reputations won’t take the beating Brady’s has if they agree to be interviewed?”
Mike Freeman, Bleacher Report, “Power-Hungry NFL All Wrong to Demand Players Talk About Recanted Accusations”:
“The NFL’s desire to be all powerful, to have inexorable and unreasonable domain over its players, has in fact left those players, every one of them, open to blackmail. … Understandably, they have declined to speak with the NFL. Who can blame them? Many of the recent investigations conducted by the NFL, going back to Bountygate, have been massively flawed.
“Any player would be a fool to speak to the NFL.”
Jarrett Bell, USA Today, “Roger Goodell and NFL again draw the line in the sand vs. players’ union”:
“The players’ position in this case is philosophically valid. There’s a collectively-bargained policy that applies to performance-enhancing drugs. And there’s no drug test here that implicates them. The union is concerned about precedent … . Agree to these interviews, and more could follow in the future, based on allegations.
“If the players are truly innocent, why not answer a few questions and move on? If it were only that simple. It’s about the next case and the next case after that.”
Dieter Kurtenbach, Fox Sports, “Roger Goodell is ruling with an iron fist, just like we wanted”:
“Fans of the NFL have long held the belief that Goodell is a dictator — that title is certainly apt now, and there’s not much anyone can do about it. … Where is the line? Wherever Roger Goodell says it is.
“Goodell isn’t requesting the interviews under the league’s PED policy — he’s using Article 46. Why use a knife when you have a bazooka?”
John Smallwood, Philadelphia Daily News, “In Al Jazeera case, the NFL is dangerously overreaching”:
“I’m all for the league trying to do what is necessary to remove PEDs from the game, but there cannot be unlimited authority for Commissioner Roger Goodell to do whatever he wants in that pursuit. The NFL is not the government but there are still basic rights under the U.S. Constitution that all Americans should be entitled to. The NFL is at the point where it feels it does not have to follow any rules in regards to rights that Americans hold dear.
“If the NFL has nothing more than unsubstantiated claims that have been taken back, Goodell should not have the authority to call in players and subject them to the ‘chair in a dark room with a white light’ treatment. That would open the door for Goodell to call in any player he wanted to harass about anything the league wanted based on the slightest innuendo.
“The NFL should have its own ‘credible proof’ first before it is allowed to suspend players for not cooperating in an investigation.“
Rob Rossi, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “Can we really trust Goodell?”:
“This commissioner cannot be trusted. … It looks like another witch hunt that has become Goodell’s specialty.”
Chris Mueller, The Times (Pa.), “Steelers’ James Harrison needs to stick to his principles and stick it to Roger Goodell”:
“Some might say that Harrison should just sit down with the league right now if he has nothing to hide. I disagree. The principle in play is important.”
You’re seeing it, clear as day. These players shouldn’t have to submit themselves to interviews — it would set a bad precedent.
That was, unequivocally, the case regarding Tom Brady and his famed cell phone and much of the drama surrounding the case. Yet those were the types of stories that you rarely saw outside of New England.
Brady did submit himself to hours of interrogation; these players have yet to do that. Brady did open himself up to an hour-long press conference, during which he answered every question asked of him and faced criticism from armchair psychologists around the country; none of the players accused by Al Jazeera have done that.
Yet it was Brady who was collectively labeled “C” for Cheater by much of the country without so much as a thought to what the NFL’s wanton disregard for process, evidence and the like would have going forward.
It all contrasts with what’s going on now.READ MORE: Police Investigating 2 People Shot In Peabody
At the risk of inciting some eye-rolls, here’s a quick review of the various accused parties.
–Accused of accepting HGH shipments, under his wife’s name, during a time when he was recovering from neck surgery and his career was in doubt. Claim made by former clinic intern, Charlie Sly, who didn’t know he was being recorded by Al Jazeera America.
goons“investigators” to intimidate the former intern and his family, forcing him to recant his statements, even though at the time of the recanting, he didn’t know what his recorded statements actually were.
–Sends “investigators” to the Guyer Clinic to “review” records.
–Hires high-profile crisis manager.
–Confirms that the drugs were in fact sent to his house.
–Cooperates with NFL investigators, though the details of that cooperation were not made public.
–Completely cleared of any wrongdoing via 129-word statement, with the NFL going so far as to claim to definitively know that Manning never took a banned drug.
–After losing to the Patriots, the Ravens tip off the Colts about possible tomfoolery regarding footballs. The Ravens then pass along a “well-known” rumor that Patriots equipment personnel let air out of footballs because Tom Brady likes them with less air.
–A bunch of buffoons perform “tests” on the footballs at halftime. None of them know anything about science, or basic standards, or how to record anything, or how to use the same gauges. They conclude that they have caught the Patriots red-handed.
–Brady sits down for a long interview with “independent” investigator Ted Wells. Brady cooperates fully, with Wells saying Brady was “totally cooperative” and answered every single question asked of him. Brady, however, did not provide unprecedented access to the investigator by turning over his private communications.
–NFL leaks false PSI numbers which paint the Patriots as guilty. The NFL never publicly corrects these false numbers.
–NFL declares Brady guilty in a clumsily worded, 243-page investigative report which was big on innuendo but light on damning evidence. Few people read past the first five pages.
–Brady punished in large part due to “non-cooperation.” In fact, Roger Goodell, as “arbitrator,” reinforced his decision based on the destruction of Brady’s cell phone — even though a destroyed phone did not provide direct evidence of the actual alleged infraction.
–Brady largely loses the battle of public opinion in the country (“if he had nothing to hide, he should have turned over his phone”) and he loses the battle with Goodell. He’ll miss four NFL games in his age 39 season.
–NFL promises to record PSI data through 2015 season, seemingly to prove that fundamental laws of science aren’t true. Presumably upon realizing that scientists hadn’t been making up the rules for the previous year, the NFL later denies that it recorded data, essentially destroying the evidence.
–Accused of receiving Delta-2, a PED, by Charlie Sly, the former Guyer Institute intern who didn’t know he was being filmed by Al Jazeera America.
–Peppers has been suspended before for testing positive for PEDs. Neal has been suspended before for testing positive for PEDs.
–Neal is discovered to be a client of a trainer who was a close partner of Sly. Other (non-NFL) athletes named in the Al Jazeera documentary are also clients of that trainer.
–Players are currently refusing to even sit down for an interview with NFL investigators or discuss the allegations in a public setting.
In multiple ways, Tom Brady cooperated more with the NFL than Peyton Manning and the other players who now stand accused. Manning never faced the firing squad the way Brady did in Foxboro; Manning hand-picked an ESPN reporter for a recorded, sit-down interview. The other players refuse to discuss the charges, with James Harrison abruptly ending all media interviews when asked about it, and with Mike Neal advising reporters to not “piss me off” by asking about it. Brady sat down for hours with Wells; the four players now refuse to so much as get into the same room with an NFL investigator.
Yet it was Brady’s “non-cooperation” which Goodell — and the general public — latched onto for dear life. Heaven knows the evidence was speculative at best, so the guilt had to be found somewhere else.
Now, though, the public isn’t finding guilt in the voids of evidence. The public is finding fault in the commissioner.
Of course, in New England, many voices will shout, “Where was this last year?” It’s fair and expected, really, but there were some obvious distinctions with DeflateGate. For one, it is simply much easier to convince someone that the Patriots are cheaters. The longstanding success of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady is largely unprecedented, and Belichick’s certainly brought plenty of negative attention onto himself, and so the perception sometimes supersedes the reality. An accusation against the Patriots is undeniably juicier than a rumor about any other team. It gets TV viewers and website clicks, and so it tends to balloon into a much larger story than it would if it involved, say, the Falcons.
And because of that, the Patriots lost a first-round draft pick, and they’ll be without their Hall of Fame quarterback for four games. That was a loss for the team and the player.
But, if there is a consolation to be found, it can be discovered in the general response to the latest chest-thumping effort of the commissioner. Maybe — just maybe — the public has learned that the NFL and Goodell are not to be trusted. They’ve seen in the Bounty case and the deflated football case and several others that the league will happily smile and shake your hand before stabbing you in the back on the way out of the interview room. (Unless you’re named Peyton Manning.)
Leave it to Goodell to make the situation like this. He was just reinforced with an incredible level of power — power which could be applied properly by a clear-headed and honest leader to run the league in an efficient manner. Instead of putting it to good use, he has seemingly set out to abuse it as soon as he could.
If Goodell does indeed follow through on his threats, and if the public remains wise to his standard modus operandi, then that just may become the lasting resolution of the tedious saga known as DeflateGate.MORE NEWS: Jurassic Quest Is Officially Open At Gillette Stadium