Roger Goodell attempted to perform a miracle on national television Friday. Namely, he tried to fall on his sword without losing blood, sustaining a wound or suffering any pain.
Instead, before an audience of millions--Goodell’s “mea culpa” news conference was carried live on all of the broadcast as well as the cable networks--the embattled National Football League commissioner fell on his face.
The reviews were harsh and immediate after the 55-year-old Goodell—his blond-tousled forehead shining with flop sweat—escaped his media inquisitors at Midtown Manhattan’s New York Hilton.
“He’s ready to move on, Roger Goodell, but the question is, is everybody else?” said Fox News commentator Charles Payne on Neal Cavuto’s show. “And the answer’s absolutely not!”
Ready to move on, Goodell and his Pretorian guard rushed through a side door in the Hilton’s ornate, chandeliered conference room after he grimly read a statement and found different ways to repeatedly apologize and express various degrees of “disappointment” in himself and his team for their terrible misjudgments in the Ray Rice case, among other incidents of domestic violence perpetrated by various football stars in recent months.
Goodell’s squirrelly performance—which was accorded the sort of wall-to-wall coverage that, in simpler times, would have been reserved for a grave presidential announcement like the killing of Osama bin Laden—was in stark contrast to the forthright way in which National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver handled the Donald Sterling flap a few months ago. Where Silver had stood and delivered, Goodell simply squirmed and quibbled.
In front of a backdrop festooned with NFL Shields and behind a similarly-decorated lectern, Goodell explained away how the league’s highly-paid male executives and security team were unable to acquire the notorious video of the Baltimore Ravens running back knocking his then-fiancée, now-wife, unconscious inside a casino elevator.
He admitted that he didn’t seek advice from any women in imposing a two-game suspension on Rice—a shockingly lenient punishment that he changed to an indefinite ban after TMZ Sports released the disturbing footage.
Goodell announced the formulation of a new code of conduct for players and employees, and the formation of a brand-new NFL “conduct committee” that will set standards of behavior and punishments for such “mistakes,” as he persisted in calling the vicious deeds. He insisted that he had not once considered resigning his $40 million-a-year job amid the outcry from fans, public officials, and the $10-billion-a-year league’s corporate sponsors.
The news conference's most dramatic, and arguably entertaining, moment came when beefy plainclothes security guys forcibly removed a struggling, shrieking man—later revealed to be Benjy Bronk, a writer for Howard Stern--who interrupted the proceedings. Goodell otherwise bobbed and weaved his way through half an hour of grilling by skeptical reporters.
“This is kind of what you expect out of Roger Goodell in these situations,” said Time magazine sports writer Sean Gregory on MSNBC, noting that Goodell had failed in his primary mission--“quelling the controversy.”
Gregory continued: “He’s a very artful dodger. He doesn’t answer the questions. A lot of talk of committees. ‘We’re trying to get it right.’ And it sounds a little hollow after all the NFL has been through to just kind of get statements. The news coming out of here is there’s a commission. And we know that when governments don’t want to do something, they form commissions.”
Over on CNN, Jake Tapper positively dripped with sarcasm. “If you had to pick the most publicly reviled man in the NFL right now, you would have plenty of options among all those players accused of various forms of abuse, but Goodell would be a prime candidate,” Tapper said. “He’s the man accused of handing out slaps on the wrist for punches in the face.”
Tapper was just warming up. Listing the recent incidents of allegedly violent spousal and child abuse attributed to the Ravens’ Rice, the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson and the Arizona Cardinals’ Jonathan Dwyer, Tapper declared with barely concealed contempt: “Moments ago Goodell broke his silence and announced that the NFL will mandate education and training for players and staff about how to prevent abuse, because apparently the problem is some of them still don’t know it’s wrong to hit women or children.”
Over on Fox News's Cavuto, Charles Payne, who hosts his own program on the Fox Business Network, suggested that Goodell might not survive now that some of the league's multi-million-dollar sponsors, notably Anheuser-Busch, are feeling the heat.
“They’re now in a position where they have to tell their constituents ‘why we stuck with the NFL.’" Payne said. "Typically, it means that someone big…had to be let go. We see this in big business all the time. We see this in the corporate world, and occasionally in the political world, where the person at the top has to leave.”
Luckily for Goodell, he'll have plenty of money if he were to be forced off the commissioner's perch. And he'll undoubtedly have no shortage of career options. Television, however, probably won't be among them.