The NFL is going to do better next time. We know this because their square-jawed spokesperson emerged from his teak-lined bunker after a week and a half of hiding and spent 45 minutes telling an audience of eager NFL insiders and a handful of professional journalists about everything the NFL has done SINCE fumbling the Ray Rice suspension. If you were hoping for some answers about how the league screwed up in the first place, the commitment to female fans or anything else of substance, you were out of luck.
This was Roger Goodell the spokesperson, not Roger Goodell the leader. Bureaucratic immune response kicked in.
Goodell Press Conference
Goodell Press Conference
It opened with the standard corporate apology. With the proper emotionless upper class groveling, Goodell administered his own lumps, acknowledging that the NFL and the commissioner himself got it wrong. He quickly pivoted to all the things the league has done since announcing a tougher domestic violence policy in August to address the problem. He even promised sweeping changes to the league's vague personal conduct policy, Goodell's most notable achievement. Just don't ask what those changes are. Someone did, but the commish volleyed back with some prepackaged lines about the sanctity of the process.
And it should be perfectly clear that the process matters far more than the results in this case, because giant corporate bureaucracies like the National Football League place great faith in the process. That's what keeps the business humming, and it's what allows the entity to build a firewall between itself and whatever series of missteps and screwups they made to get us to this point.
Most of the questions asked were dink and dunk throws, the high percentage kind that keep the ball moving without really accomplishing anything. Goodell caught all the four-yard dumpoffs in the flat with aplomb. Things got trickier when someone dared sling a bullet down the field.
What did Ray Rice tell them that wasn't consistent with the video? He couldn't answer; has to respect the appeals process.
What about the AP report that had a voicemail from someone at the league offices acknowledging the video tape? Robert Mueller's working on that with his independent investigation.
What about personnel changes in the wake of this? They've done that, hiring a blue ribbon panel of experts to advise them on the subject of domestic violence.
CNN's Rachel Nichols tried to break the monotony with a tough question about Robert Mueller and a conflict of interest (Mueller's law firm was the same one that negotiated the league's deal with DirecTV). Goodell accused her of questioning the integrity of the former Director of the FBI (because the FBI has never, ever messed up anything or used questionable practices of its own).
TMZ was there too, once again putting the NFL media establishment to shame with its work.
TMZ: We found out by one phone call. Can you explain that? Goodell: I can't explain how you got the information.— SB Nation NFL (@SBNationNFL) September 19, 2014
If you were hoping for some kind of transparency, even a little frankness, you walked away disappointed. Roger Goodell made it clear that they have little to no interest in addressing how we got to this point, why sponsors spent the week issuing statements and in a few occasions pulling out entirely. He left the job of righting the wrongs already done to Mueller and his investigation being overseen by a pair of owners, the same two owners who told Goodell a long time ago that he had been chosen as the new commissioner, the spokesperson in chief.
I didn't really expect anything different. The moves the league is making in response to this have some positive value, if for nothing else than the bags of money they'll deliver to help make sure the Domestic Violence Hotline can answer more calls.
It's the same playbook the NFL used when Goodell got called to the carpet by Congress for how it handled brain injuries among it players. Throw money at the problem and promise to do better, but don't worry about fixing what's already been done.
The most offensive part wasn't even the craven lip service the commissioner paid to the idea of transparency for a league wholly dependent on Federal protection of its monopoly status, ability to operate as a tax-exempt nonprofit corporation and local tax dollars to fund giant stadiums that do nothing more than generate more cash for owners and the league itself.
No, what should bother you the most was Goodell's assertion that the National Football League is some kind of moral authority offering guidance to the rest of us. It is not a moral arbiter when it comes to domestic violence, substance abuse, long-term neurological disease or anything else.
The NFL is business, a multibillion dollar entertainment corporation. Its goal is to make money and nothing else. Do you really want it to be more than that?