Wednesday afternoon, the NFL announced that the league's investigation into Brett Favre's possible violation of its "personal conduct policy" had finally concluded. The verdict? A $50,000 fine for a player that's made $25 million the past two seasons in Minnesota.
As the league's official statement reads, "the sole focus was on whether there was a violation of league policies regarding conduct in the workplace. ... On the basis of the evidence currently available to him, Commissioner Goodell could not conclude that Favre violated league policies relating to workplace conduct. The forensic analysis could not establish that Favre sent the objectionable photographs to Sterger."
And it continues: "Commissioner Goodell also determined that Favre was not candid in several respects during the investigation, resulting in a longer review and additional negative public attention for Favre, Sterger, and the NFL. The commissioner notified Favre that he has been fined $50,000 for his failure to cooperate with the investigation in a forthcoming manner."
So, in layman's terms: the NFL didn't have proof that Favre sent pictures of his penis to Jenn Sterger, but Roger Goodell felt his lack of candor was grounds enough for a fine. End of story.
Now, just a few weeks after Jenn Sterger threatened to press charges should the NFL choose not to suspend Favre—and a day after the statute of limitations made it impossible for Sterger to carry out her threat—we're left with this ambiguous, empty message.
So let's put it in broader terms. The most famous player in America's most popular sport was just investigated for a crime that's notoriously difficult to prove, whereby any investigation relies heavily on the testimony of the people involved. The player here was punished for one mistake—not telling the truth, essentially—but apparently the testimony that the league deemed fine-worthy was convincing enough to discredit the allegations against him.
Um, how does that make sense?
And if Ben Roethlisberger can get suspended in light of a sexual assault investigation that concluded without charges, what's to stop Roger Goodell from acting in Favre's case? Nobody's more exhausted by Favre discussion than I am, but as much as this says about Favre and the preferential treatment he's received from everyone, always, it says more about the NFL's irrational hierarchy.
When there's one person in charge of making decisions like this, there will always be a hint of inequity. This is America, where we don't trust anyone to make decisions by themselves. But over and over again, we see Roger Goodell as the lone arbiter of NFL justice.
Not a committee made up of former players and coaches and owners. Not an outside arbitrator. Not the United States justice system, whose verdicts routinely go ignored in favor of stiffer punishments with a lower burden of proof. In the NFL, Roger Goodell has eminent domain. Not democracy, but dictatorship. It's a system founded on a pretty audacious, totally condescending assumption—that the rest of us should just trust the judgment of the NFL's C.E.O.
It's Goodell's standards that determine who gets suspended, how much everyone gets fined, and whether the NFL's purposefully vague conduct policy has been violated. A lot of people will see this ruling and crow about unfairness, and they should. But the greatest injustice has nothing to do with Favre, and everything to do with the NFL's longstanding policy of justifying its decisions by saying "Roger Goodell said so." Just look at the NFL's statement.
Could they prove Brett Favre sent the pictures? No. How do we know?
On the basis of the evidence currently available to him, Commissioner Goodell could not conclude that Favre violated league policies relating to workplace conduct.
Well, why did the investigation take exactly one day longer than it took for the statute of limitations to pardon Favre? That seems a little suspicious.
Commissioner Goodell also determined that Favre was not candid in several respects during the investigation, resulting in a longer review...
So after all that, this is the only punishment Favre gets?
Commissioner Goodell stated to Favre that if he had found a violation of the league's workplace conduct policies, he would have imposed a substantially higher level of discipline.
Okay, but sexual harrassment is never going to be easy to prove, and it'll always be disputed by the star that gets accused, so isn't the NFL taking a pretty weak stance here? ... Maybe, but only in this, the most high profile instance the league's ever seen.
Other times it'll be different. Roger Goodell said so:
"Every member of every club's staff should be able to work in an environment free of harassment or hostility, and one in which every employee is valued, respected, and given a full opportunity to contribute to the goals of the club and the NFL," Commissioner Goodell said. "Our new training program on workplace conduct will help all of us to promote the right kind of environment for all employees and I intend to dedicate the fine I have imposed on Favre to help fund that training program."
We don't know whether Favre told the truth, and whether the investigation's findings merited a suspension. We can only go off what we're hear. But let's ask of Goodell what he apparently decided was irrelevant to Favre: "Are we just supposed to take your word for it?"
Goodell expects us to. And yeah, it's arrogant and a little insulting that this is how the NFL works in 2010. But then, Brett Favre's arrogant, insulting alleged conduct toward Jenn Sterger and NFL investigators went mostly unpunished. I guess that's just how the NFL works in 2010.