Like the legendary groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally emerged from his burrow Friday to face his thinning shadow.
“Listen, it has been a tough year,” Punxsutawney Roger said at his annual Super Bowl press conference. “It’s been a tough year on me personally.
“It’s been a year of what I would say is humility and learning. We, obviously as an organization, have gone through adversity. More importantly, it’s been adversity for me.”
Goodell’s public mea culpa, alas, pretty much ended there.
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Minutes later, Goodell was asked by respected CNN journalist Rachel Nichols about the perceived conflict of interest that arises when the commissioner appoints and pays people to “independently” investigate things for the league.
Goodell turned prickly at that question, no doubt remembering that Nichols embarrassed him with her reporting earlier this season during his mishandling of the Ray Rice incident.
“I don’t agree with you on a lot of the assumptions you make in your question,” Goodell began. “I think we have had people that have uncompromising integrity. I think you asked me the same question last fall about a conflict of interest.
“I think we have done an excellent job of bringing outside consultants in. Somebody has to pay them, Rachel. Unless you’re volunteering, which I don’t think you are, we will do that.”
Yep. So much for that humility thing.
When a commissioner who makes a reported $44 million a year feels he has to scoreboard a salaried TV journalist, he puts his insecurities and shortcomings on clear public display.
The late Pete Rozelle was lord of his domain. Only Al Davis ever dared to challenge him.
Paul Tagliabue, Rozelle’s successor as commissioner, may have lacked charisma, but he was a respected D.C. lawyer who shepherded the league through labor strife, expansion, Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.
Goodell’s clay feet, by comparison, seem to sink by the day.
At Friday’s news conference, Goodell trumpeted the league’s declining concussion rate. But is it really declining significantly, or are concussions being under-reported now that teams know they are being scrutinized?
Goodell also was asked to respond to Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s challenge to issue an apology if no proof is found in the Deflategate incident.
Goodell promised a thorough investigation because, he said, “This is my job. This is my responsibility — to protect the integrity of the game.”
But there go Goodell’s inconsistencies, surfacing again. He vowed Friday to wait for investigator Ted Wells’ full findings in Deflategate, yet Goodell’s thoroughness clearly was lacking in finding the Rice domestic abuse tape.
When a reporter asked him Friday to comment on the messy lawsuit that Tom Benson’s family has filed in New Orleans over the Saints owner’s mental competency, “Doctor” Goodell was quick to chime in.
Benson, said Goodell, is “somebody that has demonstrated to me he’s got complete control over what he’s doing to make sure that organization goes in the right direction.”
Never mind, I guess, that it’s a pending lawsuit. Benson is an NFL owner, which means he’s one of the 32 who hired Goodell and paid him $44 million last year.
This is why NFL players feel he represents the owners, not them.
This is why, when Goodell said Friday, “I’m available to the media almost every day of my job,” Twitter lit up with reporters’ mocking cries to the contrary.
This is why — all Goodell’s claims of a humbling year aside — his credibility has become a thin shadow of his predecessors’.
As long as he’s pointing to scoreboards, there’s no hiding that.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697