The first public comments for Roger Goodell in the wake of his credibility as NFL commissioner being in serious jeopardy over the Ray Rice fiasco were always going to be carefully chosen. Goodell is fighting for the last shreds of his integrity in the pubilc arena, if not his job with NFL owners, so the venue for his comments were going to say a lot about how serious the NFL offices are taking the controversy.
Interestingly, Goodell chose to sit down with Norah O’Donnell of CBS News. Not ESPN. Not Fox Sports. Not CBS Sports.
Why did Goodell and the NFL choose to go this route? Why not go to ESPN or Fox Sports or do an interview with a top sportscaster like Costas, Nantz, or Buck? Why not a respected sports journalist like Bob Ley or Pam Oliver? It’s a clear public relations play.
The cynic would say that CBS just paid hundreds of millions of dollars for the brand new Thursday Night Football package and the Ravens just happen to be playing their first game since the Rice assault video was published on CBS this Thursday. Synergy.
In all likelihood, Goodell went to O’Donnell and CBS News for a couple reasons. First, this is no longer a sports story. It’s a national news story. Go to the cable news networks, the morning shows, and everywhere in between and they’re talking about Ray Rice and the NFL’s domestic violence problem. Goodell going straight to the network news broadcasts shows the seriousness of the controversy. Second, Goodell knows he has a serious problem with the NFL’s relationship with female fans. It’s no coincidence that the NFL sat Goodell down with a female news anchor to conduct this interview to give the impression the embattled commissioner is reaching out to women.
Public relations optics can help set you up for success when going through a controversy. But it can’t help you answer tough questions.
And to credit O’Donnell and CBS News, she did not hold back from asking tough questions of the NFL commissioner that viewers wanted to hear. Here are the key exchanges from the interview transcript posted on NFL.com. They show a commissioner fighting for his life who can’t articulate a way out of this credibility crisis.
How is that the NFL couldn’t get their hands on the second tape, but a website called TMZ could?
“Well, I don’t know how TMZ or any other website gets their information. We are particularly reliant on law enforcement. That’s the most reliable, it’s the most credible and we don’t seek to get that information from sources that are not credible.”
Goodell didn’t seek that information because he either didn’t bother to see it, or his investigation was led by Mr. Magoo. The truth is that Goodell had plenty of opportunities to acquire this videotape and either someone from the league did see it and someone is lying about it, or the league completely failed to do their job to investigate the matter fully.
Do you wish you had seen this videotape before it was released by TMZ?
“Absolutely. (Why?) That’s why we asked for it on several occasions. Because when we make a decision we want to have all the information that’s available. And obviously that was the, that when we met with Ray Rice and his representatives, it was ambiguous about what actually happened.”
Ambiguous?!?! The video of Ray Rice dragging an unconscious Janay Palmer out of an elevator was ambiguous?!?! Did she faint? Was there a lack of oxygen in that elevator?
And if you want to have all the information that’s available when you make a decision, why did you make a decision without seeing the video from inside the elevator?
But what changed? On the first tape she (Janay Rice) was lying unconscious on the ground, being dragged out (of an elevator) by her feet. Did you really need to see a videotape of Ray Rice punching her in the face to make this decision?
“No. We certainly didn’t. And I will tell you that what we saw on the first videotape was troubling to us in and of itself. And that’s why we took the action we took. As I’ve said before, we didn’t feel that was sufficient, we didn’t get that right. But what we saw yesterday was extremely clear, it was extremely graphic, and it was sickening.”
So Goodell says he didn’t need to see the tape of him actually knocking out his fiancee to suspend him indefinitely. But he suspended Rice indefinitely only after seeing the tape of him actually knocking out his fiancee. #Consistency.
O’Donnell’s last question was targeted at Goodell’s job security amidst a growing number of calls to have him fired as NFL commissioner.
Do you feel like your job is on the line?
“No, I’m used to criticism. I’m used to that. Every day, I have to earn my stripes. Every day, I have to, to do a better job. And that’s my responsibility to the game, to the NFL, and to what I see as society. People expect a lot from the NFL. We accept that. We embrace that. That’s our opportunity to make a difference not just in the NFL, but in society in general. We have that ability. We have that influence. And we have to do that. And every day, that’s what we’re going to strive to do.”
The NFL may have that ability and influence, but it doesn’t amount to a pile of cow manure unless it’s used properly. And for Goodell to brush off the calls for his job as blanket “criticism” is a misunderstanding of just how serious of a problem this is for the NFL. This goes far beyond any issue or criticism of Goodell’s job in office thus far. Perhaps he’s truly that secure in his position and the NFL owners will be happy as long as he is making them oodles of dollars. (Sadly, that will probably turn out to be the case.)
Goodell’s interview with O’Donnell may have been an attempt at repairing his credibility with football fans, women, and the public-at-large. But a consistent lack of answers to O’Donnell’s firm and fair questions will only increase the pressure on his shoulders.