Roger Goodell was having a very successful run as NFL commissioner. With record-setting and ever-growing revenues coming into the league, he was paid $44 million last year by his bosses, the owners of the teams. While a few disgruntled fans found things to complain about, such as the salary cap penalties handed out to the Dallas Cowboys and Washington because they chose not to participate in collusion with the other teams, he was keeping the important people happy with the river of income. He also had built a strong image as an enforcer with stern penalties for violations of the substance abuse and performance enhancing drug policies, the bountygate issue with the New Orleans Saints, and weekly fines for players flagged for unnecessary roughness.
All that is now threatened by the assault on Janay Palmer (now Janay Rice) by her fiance Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens running back. A growing chorus of voices in the media and the public are calling for his resignation or firing. It has now reached Washington, with Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) calling for his head.
Although it is not necessarily a good or just thing, this may be the end for Goodell's time as commissioner.
If this were purely an NFL matter, then Goodell would probably weather this. He still has the support of the owners, including the Cowboys' Jerry Jones.
"He's been a very good commissioner," Jones said. "He's acknowledged that he's mishandled this, and he's said that he'll do better in the future. He can and I believe he will."
The problem is that this issue may no longer be one that the NFL can control. The league has already had a lot of pressure applied to it over the concussion issue, and any time elected officials start posturing and going before the media, there is a very real danger of governmental action. Add in a perception among some segments of society and the media that the NFL promotes a barbaric and unnecessarily violent sport, and Goodell may become a sacrifice to appease those who want to see the league pay a price for its perceived sins.
This may never have come up without the videos that surfaced of the assault. Increasingly, surveillance cameras are capturing things that previously went unseen by the public. Had the first version of the video, showing Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of the elevator in a casino, not become public, there might have been no action at all by the league, and very little public attention paid to the matter. Prior to this incident, the NFL had no policy about domestic violence. The matter was left up to the courts. But with the first video, the league felt it had to act, and gave Rice the two game suspension. That in turn was quickly denounced by many as being far too lenient when compared to the much harsher penalties attached to things like recreational drug use. This led to a new policy being announced with a six game suspension for first offenses, and a ban for players with a second offense. However, the mechanics of this, which would have to be worked out with the NFL Players Association, were a little uncertain.
Of course, the second video showing Rice punching Palmer unconscious created the real crisis. It put the league in an indefensible position, and quickly led to Rice's indefinite suspension.
For Goodell, it created a major issue of credibility. First there were questions about why the league had not gotten the video that TMZ posted. There was an implication that the league had not tried very hard. Then there was a discrepancy in what Goodell said about Rice's statements about the incident, which he termed "ambiguous", and four separate sources that claimed Rice had plainly stated to Goodell that he struck Palmer and rendered her unconscious. The situation just got worse with a report that a copy of the full video was sent to someone in the league office.
It has become a no win situation for Goodell. Did he lie? Did his staff lie to him or conceal the second video? Now the league has hired former head of the FBI Robert Mueller to conduct an independent investigation of the incident, with New York Giants owner John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II serving as assistants. Both hold law degrees, and it is believed that their role will be to make sure Mueller gets the information and access he needs.
What will this mean for Goodell? Neithan20000 shared this quote, attributed to ESPN writer Mike Sando, with the FPWs.
• Goodell's fate: I asked a league executive early Wednesday whether he thought the Ray Rice controversy would bring down commissioner Roger Goodell. This was before news broke claiming the league had an opportunity to review the most incriminating video of Rice assaulting his future wife. "No," the executive said, "but if Goodell and the league saw the video beforehand, he [will not be the] commissioner in March for the league meetings."
Even if Goodell is able to maintain plausible deniability about having seen the video himself, it is looking increasingly likely that someone in the NFL offices did. That may be enough to end his tenure. Although it is just speculation, the league may want to move rapidly on this. It is a huge distraction, with the entire issue of domestic violence, something that is a major problem in all areas and strata of American life, now perhaps unfairly linked in the public mind to pro football. As much as the owners like the job Goodell has done, they would certainly be willing to let him be the one going under the bus if it helps preserve their income streams. There has also been some discussion that Goodell may elect to retire rather than subject himself to the continuing drama ($44 million paychecks do grant one a certain freedom from worry about unemployment).
If he does go, word is Condoleeza Rice may have her eye on his office.