By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s nothing in the world that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell enjoys more than telling people that he’s upholding the “integrity of the game.” It’s largely a public relations slogan and it’s not generally backed up by honest and equitable decision-making, but it’s nevertheless pushed as an imperative of the league.
But oh, how the tables have turned.
Saints tight end Benjamin Watson did not play in Sunday’s heart-breaking defeat, due to appendicitis, but he hoped to be healthy and able to play in the Super Bowl. Alas, the 14-year veteran won’t get that chance, in large part due to the on-field officials failing to penalize the Rams on a clear-as-day pass interference penalty.
Watson, who announced in December that he’d retire at season’s end, had to watch his hopes of playing on an NFL field one last time dashed, thanks in large part to a missed call. The 38-year-old seems understanding of the human factor involved, but he nevertheless called out Goodell directly for remaining silent for multiple days in the wake of the controversial moment.
“Commissioner Goodell. We all realize that football is an imperfect game, played, coached and officiated by imperfect people,” Watson wrote in a note on Twitter. “What occurred last Sunday in New Orleans though, was outside of that expected and accepted norm.”
With his preamble completed, Watson went right to where it would actually sting the commissioner.
“Your continued silence on this matter is unbecoming of the position you hold, detrimental to the integrity of the game and disrespectful and dismissive to football fans everywhere,” Watson wrote. “From the locker room to Park Ave, accountability is what makes our league great. Lead by example. We are waiting.”
Let’s run that one back again: “Your continued silence on this matter is unbecoming of the position you hold, detrimental to the integrity of the game and disrespectful and dismissive to football fans everywhere.”
And one more: “Accountability is what makes our league great. Lead by example.”
There is but one proper reaction:
Of course, at some point, Goodell will have to speak on the matter. But by then, it’ll certainly be too late. As Watson brilliantly and succinctly targeted, the commissioner’s leadership style — or lack thereof — has clearly been shown to the football world at large. Anything said now will be much, much too late.
And, as you’ll surely notice, Watson — who was originally drafted by Bill Belichick and the Patriots back in 2004 — was not calling for the game to be replayed. He was not calling for the Saints to swap places with the Rams in Atlanta next week for Super Bowl LIII. He was not demanding that remediation be made.
He was simply asking Roger Goodell, a man in charge of the NFL, to own up to the league’s error.
As a man who had his final chance at playing an NFL game — and playing in a Super Bowl for just the second time of his career, no less — taken away from him, he’d probably want to know why the referee seemed to be lying when he spoke to the media after the game, too.
But mostly, Watson just wants Goodell to act like an adult and show accountability. Though Goodell obviously did not have anything to do with the missed call on the field (unless you believe in the deepest of conspiracy theories), the fact is that he is the face of the league. He must be willing to stand in front of the cameras and face the music, in good times and in bad. More and more these days, Goodell seems only willing to show up for the former.
Requesting that the person in charge of a billion dollar industry hold himself accountable shouldn’t be too much to ask.
And yet, in the NFL, it almost always is.