Wicked Game

The $44 Million Teflon Don of the NFL

The immense power of Roger Goodell and his football league means that they can weather scandal after awful scandal with hardly any consequences.

Poor Roger Goodell. He presides over the world’s most popular non-profit enterprise as Commissioner of the National Football League, a job that paid him $44 million large last year for doing things like clowning it up after a league employee, Ray Rice, got caught on tape behaving as if his then girlfriend, Janay Palmer, was a punching bag.

By now, nearly everyone has seen Rice dragging an unconscious Janay off an Atlantic City casino elevator and dropping her on the floor as if she were a piece of Samsonite luggage. When Roger first heard what happened and saw the tape he was shocked, truly shocked, and outraged.

So outraged he swung into action and summoned the former Baltimore Ravens running back to the NFL Vatican on Park Avenue. He listened intently, very seriously, brow furrowed, to Rice’s explanation. Then he suspended him for two whole games because Ray’s behavior was almost as bad as a helmet-to-helmet hit, which certainly cannot be condoned.

Unfortunately for Roger and his crack team of legal advisers, not one of them apparently had the common sense of a store detective and knew enough to ask the following question: “What the eff do you figure he did to her on the elevator? Is there a tape of that?”

Well, because casinos have cameras everywhere, turns out there was indeed a tape. And soon all of America got to see Ray in the ring with Janay, hitting her with a shot in the jaw.

Down goes Goodell.

Roger was now walking around like a man on fire. He admitted that the two game suspension was a bad call. He held a press conference, where he provided a wonderful impression of a dunce, and then basically kicked Rice out of the NFL for life.

Yet because this most litigious nation of ours offers all of us first, second and third chances, Ray and the National Football League Player’s Association appealed the loss of his livelihood. A former federal judge, Barbara Jones, was hired as arbitrator to hear Ray’s claim.

On Friday, she sacked Roger Goodell, basically asking: “Hey Commissioner, ever hear of double-jeopardy?” Jones ruled for Ray and he is now back in business, eligible to sign with any NFL club.

Here’s the money paragraph from her decision: “…on June 16, Rice met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for a pre- discipline meeting. At that meeting, Rice told the Commissioner that he had hit Mrs. Rice in the elevator. The NFL knew of the indictment and the results of the criminal proceeding. They had seen the video of Rice’s conduct outside the elevator…They believed that there was a second video from a camera inside the elevator. Various sources, including NFL security, had reported its existence. Rice had received this video in discovery during his criminal case, but it had not been aired publicly, as had the first video. The NFL never asked Rice for the second video. “

The NFL…never…asked!

So Roger and the NFL will now have to face the severe consequences of their incompetence or indifference toward the crime of domestic abuse: A few days of embarrassing publicity.

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That’s it. That’s all that’s going to happen. Nothing more.

How come? Because the National Football League is a cultural and economic powerhouse. It dominates Sunday in America. And Monday night. And Thursday night too. It is a cash cow, handed billions by TV networks and rewarding its sponsors with huge ratings and ever growing revenues. It has enough clout to force presidents to change their schedule to speak to the nation about minor topics like the economy or war and enough arrogance to ignore for years the physical damage the game has done to its former players.

Sixteen times a year, all thirty-two NFL teams give us what we’re looking for: speed, skill, violence, fantasy league orgasms and a final score. No confusion. No doubt. No indecision. A winner and a loser.

It’s who we are.

Oddly enough, a case can be made that the one person who acted somewhat honorably in this whole mess was the twisted guy committing the crime: Ray Rice. No matter what you think of him and what he did – committing a felony act of assault and battery on Janay Palmer, now his wife – he at least owned up to it and told the truth of what occurred on that elevator. He told this to Roger Goodell, who simply was not listening, because he was busy proving that his job isn’t to protect a victim, it’s to protect “The Shield.”

For more from Mike Barnicle, visit mikebarnicle.com.