Last summer, Roger Goodell called the conduct of Washington Football Team executives “abhorrent.” Last week, Goodell’s league called Jon Gruden’s racist email about Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith “abhorrent,” right before Gruden was allowed to coach one last Raiders game — a decision that was, you guessed it, abhorrent.
The NFL can blame Las Vegas owner Mark Davis for allowing his man to lead a team that included many African-American players and one openly gay player, Carl Nassib, while the league was in possession of Gruden’s homophobic and misogynistic emails that were about to be exposed. But Goodell is the keeper of the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy, not Davis. That Nassib needed to take a personal day away from his team Wednesday should make the league awfully proud.
Now there are calls for Goodell to release all of the 650,000 emails uncovered in the probe of Washington’s workplace environment, and not just those leaked with the apparent purpose of destroying a career, Gruden’s, that deserved to be destroyed. Perhaps 650,000 is too big of an ask. Goodell should at least charge investigator Beth Wilkinson to release the emails relevant to the NFL’s finding that Washington’s culture was toxic, abusive, predatory, you name it for female employees.
But of course the commissioner won’t do that. Over his 15 years in office, Goodell has proven he has little interest in finding the absolute truth and sharing it with his loyal customer base. He seeks only the most convenient truth, a story that will get him by and get him back to making a spitload of money for Daniel Snyder (somehow still the WTF owner of the WFT), the 31 other owners, and, of course, himself.
On that August 2006 day that Goodell was elected Paul Tagliabue’s successor, Snyder was among the owners to publicly praise the new guy in charge. Seven years later, Goodell wrote to 10 members of Congress in support of Snyder’s desire to keep the team name “Redskins,” calling that name “a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.” Eight years after that, Goodell gave the billionaire a pass in the form of a $10 million fine despite the horrifying findings of a probe forced on the commissioner by The Washington Post’s reporting.
Goodell will do anything to protect the owners, the people who made this son of Bronxville privilege richer than the richest NFL players, and opened the doors to an Augusta National membership and related perks. In 2017, Goodell reportedly asked those owners for a new contract that included nearly $50 million in annual salary, lifetime use of a private jet, and lifetime insurance coverage for his entire family. The commissioner wanted the ultimate guaranteed deal in a league that guarantees most players only physical pain and a pink slip once the injuries mount.
If Goodell were judged like the players are judged, on performance, he would have been cut from the team at least a half dozen times. Most of his errors were unforced, and committed in the name of protecting an owner, multiple owners, and sometimes even a player while often trying to run an end-around on the absolute truth.
He had the Patriots’ Spygate evidence destroyed, to protect benefactor Robert Kraft and the league’s premier franchise, and then went overboard in Deflategate to satisfy all the owners enraged about his Spygate moves. He wanted no part of finding that very find-able Ray Rice elevator video, then got hammered by a former federal judge who didn’t buy the commissioner’s contention that Rice had misled him about what had happened in that casino elevator, citing Goodell for “abuse of discretion.” He overreached in the Saints’ Bountygate case, then got hammered by his own appointed appellate judge, Tagliabue, who vacated his successor’s player suspensions.
Pressed on the growing evidence that football is hazardous to your health, especially to your brain’s health, Goodell actually responded, “There is risk in life. There is risk in sitting on the couch.” The commissioner never accepted what Colin Kaepernick and others stood (or knelt) for, and then only reversed field and admitted the league was wrong “for not listening to NFL players earlier” when he felt he had no choice (and still didn’t even mention Kaepernick’s name). His friend, civil rights activist Harry Edwards, likened Goodell’s sudden support of African-American players and their righteous causes to “Dracula pledging to make regular donations to the blood bank.”
Now Goodell, lifelong company man, wants you to believe that not only shouldn’t a written record of the Washington investigation be released; there was never any need for a written record in the first place. Though his Personal Conduct Policy states that owners are held to a higher standard than players, Goodell made sure Wilkinson’s report on Snyder’s culture never made it into print. He will also try to make sure these emails stay out of public view.
There’s only one word for that kind of NFL leadership. Abhorrent.