Roger Goodell met with the media on Tuesday to discuss updates regarding one or more teams moving to Los Angeles, a welcomed distraction from an off-season dominated by flat balls.
Only, the biggest story to come out of the press conference—other than, perhaps, Oakland not having a “viable proposal” to keep the Raiders in town—was Goodell’s comments about… balls.
If so inclined, here is a full transcript of the press conference. My favorite exchange—less a direct query about balls and more a round-about way of asking a ball-related question—was this:
“In the past 12 months you’ve gone through some of the issues…you’ve gone to federal court with two of your most prominent players, and you’ll be there with one of them tomorrow. Yet, here you are, talking about billion dollar stadium plans and teams vying to pay millions of dollars to move, record T.V. ratings and announcing a new deal with the draft. What impact, if any, do you feel within the past 12 months, have had on your brand and your ability to keep growing the game?”
The NFL did not provide the names of reporters in its transcript, but I wish it had because this question is wonderful. It’s essentially asking, in a much more polite way, “you can’t stop screwing things up, but you’re making an obscene amount of money for the league. How is this possible, sir? It’s less a question and more congratulations.”
Goodell was ready with a quick response, well prepared for that type of question.
“We always set a high bar for ourselves, Tom. That’s important for us and when we don’t hit it, we admit it and we do better. I think what we have focused on is, “How do we continue to do better?” We’ve made changes to the way we operate, our personal conduct policy, brought in expertise that have helped us make better decisions, and we continue to operate our league. We try to do that with getting better, growing and trying to address matters that are important to our league.”
The commissioner probably should have stopped there, as his answer was sufficient, if not terribly illuminating. It was a perfect politician’s response, deflecting the actual question to bring the conversation back to his agenda. Then he went a little Rust Cohle on us. Only a football is not a flat circle.
“Time doesn’t stand still on us. I think people expect an awful lot from us and we want to deliver that. The most important thing is the fans want to see football. That’s the best news about the time period we’re in right now. It’s all in front of us.”
Yes, when asked about how off-the-field issues and courtroom drama that have dominated the news cycle for an entire year impacts his personal brand—and through that the NFL’s brand as well—Goodell replied that football is back to distract us, so stop looking back because there’s football coming, guys! Football!
Only, it’s not just football. There’s a little thing you’re set to attend on Wednesday, Mr. Commish. With Tom Brady. About the balls.
I asked Goodell why the NFL didn't correct the ESPN report from January. Here's his answer. Can you make sense of it? pic.twitter.com/IhVxt0JFdR
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) August 11, 2015
Oh, now this is interesting. A press conference, that was on television, has one transcription from a reporter asking a question—in this case Ben Volin of the Boston Globe—and a slightly different version from the NFL.
Volin asked Goodell why he didn’t correct the report Chris Mortensen tweeted and filed to ESPN in January stating, via his source, that 11 of the 12 balls used by the Patriots were “underinflated by two pounds.”
Here is Goodell’s response, transcribed by Volin for the Boston Globe:
“First and foremost, we went to an independent investigation that week following the AFC Championship game. All of that focus was put to Ted Wells at that point in time — supporting him and cooperating with him fully, making sure he had any information he had.
“There was no more discussion about a public discussion. It was Ted Wells’s investigation. He had complete discretion on the timing, scope, the amount of time that was necessary for him, who he spoke to, and we fully supported that. So we went along with that, and that was ultimately the decision we made, and we issued our discipline shortly thereafter. And we’re in the middle of a CBA process now, and now litigation.”
Here is the NFL version, with the relevant differences from Volin’s transcription in bold:
“As you know, first and foremost, we went to an independent investigation that week following the AFC Championship Game. All of that focus was put to Ted Wells at that point in time, in supporting him, cooperating with him fully and making sure he had any information we had.
“And there was no more public discussion about anything – it was Ted Wells’ investigation. He had complete discretion on the timing, the scope, the amount of time that was necessary for him, who he spoke to and we fully supported that. So we went along with that and that was ultimately the decision that he gave in May and we issued our discipline shortly thereafter and we’re in the middle of a CBA process now and now litigation.”
Given the tone of Volin’s coverage, it stands to reason it’s in his best interest to make the commissioner sound like a bumbling lunatic, but considering the event was televised and everyone in NFL circles was going to be reporting on this topic, it’s interesting to see how those differences change what Goodell said, per Volin, to what he meant to say, per the NFL.
Either way, he still kind of sounded like a bumbling lunatic, but outside of a mumbled “he” that may have sounded like a “we,” the other difference are significant enough to be noteworthy.
Goodell was directly asked why the NFL didn’t correct an erroneous report put out by a very influential reporter (Mortensen) at one of the league’s top media partners (ESPN), and his response was that the investigation had been given to Ted Wells, so all of the league’s focus was on giving Wells the information they had for his, ahem, independent inquiry.
Goodell did not deny the league had the information that could refute Mortensen’s claim, but stated they didn’t go public because Wells had been put in charge at the time, independently speaking of course.
The difference between Volin’s version of, “we went along with that, and that was ultimately the decision we made” and the NFL’s, “we went along with that and that was ultimately the decision that he gave in May” is either a terribly unfortunate typo by one side or the entire point Volin was trying to make.
Was Wells put in charge of every decision, including when Goodell and the NFL could talk to the media, about the biggest scandal of the year, in the two weeks leading into the Super Bowl? Or was the NFL in charge of its own public relations, opting not to correct the claim for other reasons, and is now throwing Wells under the bus?
Follow up: what were those reasons, and has anyone checked the inflation levels on the tires for that bus?
Goodell wouldn’t have answered that even if he knew. After all, he’s in the middle of a CBA process now. “And now litigation.”