BY Art Thiel 06:18PM 09/09/2014

Thiel: Rice delivers a punch to Goodell too

Goodell again demonstrates tone-deafness in his NFL stewardship. Would it be asking too much for a leader that is neither liar nor fool?

Roger Goodell has exhibited a career-terminal case of tone deafness. / Wiki Commonsin

It would be easier to think of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as a latter-day Inspector Clouseau, Peter Sellers’ dimwitted fop of a cop in the “Pink Panther” movie series, with a clip here serving as analogy for the investigative prowess Goodell seems to have brought to bear in the case of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.

Clumsy awkwardness aside, the seriousness attendant to domestic violence means that “easy” isn’t an option to take in assessing Goodell’s role. He and his advisors screwed up so profoundly this sorry affair that it is transcending football fanhood and metastasizing throughout mainstream culture before our cringing eyes.

The mishandling has turned the NFL’s opening weekend into a proctology exam of the hubris that infects the empire.

As an NFL broadcast partner, ESPN is too often incapable or unwilling to report honestly on its cash cow’s misdeeds. The notable exception is Keith Olbermann, whose evisceration this week of the investigation, its conclusion, and the apparent coverup by many parties is a marvel of clear thinking and independent delivery:

On the other end, broadcasters Chris Berman and former Seahawks quarterback Trent Dilfer tried to explain the Rice episode in the middle of ESPN’s Monday night telecast of the Chargers-Cardinals game. Berman long ago became an industrial-strength goober, but even Dilfer, a bright guy, reached for everything but a relevant point.

Consumer warning: Listening to this stilted convolution in the video from Deadspin here may cause some viewers to stick forks through temples (medical science calls the phenomenon “the Stephen A. Smith syndrome”).

The point of the exchange is to demonstrate how many connected with the NFL are being made to look foolish when they feel the corporate urgency to explain the inexplicable.

The episode is so far inexplicable because when TMZ released Monday the previously unreleased portion of the hotel security video, which showed Rice in the elevator knocking out then-fiance Janay Palmer with a blow to her head, which then hits the car’s handrail before she drops unconscious to the floor, the disclosure made out Goodell to be a fool or a liar.

A liar, because the NFL maintains steadfastly that its officials did not see the in-elevator video until Monday, despite the fact the the NFL’s sophisticated security apparatus is, in the global power rankings, somewhere between the KGB and the Mossad. The fact that TMZ could buy a copy of the video from its unnamed owner that neither the NFL nor the Atlantic City, N.J., police could obtain, strains credulity beyond the breaking point.

But if Goodell and minions did see the video’s contents, and tried to whitewash the truth while protecting Rice, the Ravens and the NFL’s shield, then they were fools because that is no longer how the vide0-camera-pickled world works.

When the world sees, rather than hears or reads about, Rice clobbering a woman unconscious, the visceral resonance is profound. Imagine if there were a video record of that horrific night in Kansas City in 2012, when Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who had a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit, shot his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, nine times, then killed himself in front of his coach and general manager.

Instead, 95 percent of football fans outside of Kansas City have forgotten about it, yet the consequences were far worse than the Rice episode, which ESPN’s Adam Schefter called perhaps the worst black eye ever for the NFL. Please. Ask all the retired players dealing with a variety of mental health issues, including uncontrollable violence, about their views on the worst deeds of the NFL. Better yet, ask their wives.

Hey, Rice and Palmer are now married. She has been trotted out with her husband at a news conference, following Rice’s derided two-game suspension, in a cynical attempt to manipulate public sentiment by saying all is well.

Whether Goodell is determined to be a liar or a fool in this case matters little; either is a fireable offense. I agree with Olbermann about the need for Goodell to step down. But such an action needs to be taken with the understanding that change is needed for reasons beyond the significant fact that Goodell simply can no longer be believed in this case.

From the callous, appalling settlement with pro football retirees over concussions, to the bungled “Bountygate” punishments that required the intervention of former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, to the preposterous defense of the Redskins nickname, to the incompetence/obliviousness of the Rice episode, Goodell, and the people who support his leadership, are tone deaf to a changing culture and the responsibilities in it.

Moreover, owners, coaches and players need a far greater understanding of an industry built on violence that creates a subculture of violence as an acceptable solution for real-life problems. Obviously, many ingredients go into the cultural stew that makes violence acceptable for too many, but the No. 1 sport in America needs to ask itself if it wants to be part of that, or apart from it.

As lords of a monopoly realm, Goodell and entourage have little concept of listening to outsiders when, to cite one small example of institutional arrogance, the NFL can demand, and get, police escorts for all owners’ municipal travel in Super Bowl host cities.

So long have they been used to hearing their names in reverent tones they no longer feel a need to listen. The NFL needs new leadership, and not from its insular culture of entitlement. Unlikely though it is that they will take the counsel of sportswriters or sportscasters on such a matter, they now have an attentive audience of wives, sisters and daughters who can’t un-see what they just saw.



  • Big

    Mr. Keith Olbermann well stated. Thanks Mr Thiel for your story.

  • jafabian

    If an NBA owner can be forced out for racist comments then a Commisioner can have the same done for their ignorance regarding domestic violence. It could be argued that Goodell also mishandled the Referee and NFL lockouts. Spygate and Bountygate happened on his watch as well.

    But the office of the Commisioner only has so much authority. Whomever replaces him would really be a figurehead. Goodell is practically that already. Goodell represents the real problem which is the NFL itself. Just like how it’s been revealed that Donald Sterling is only the tip of the iceberg in the NBA.

    • art thiel

      The difference is that Goodell, unlike Sterling, didn’t commit the foul deed. Goodell responded poorly to Rice, but he didn’t hit anyone. I think the NFL’s response to the retired players’ medical issues was probably more callous and cynical.

      • jafabian

        I view the foul deed on Goodell’s part is his lax approach to it. The initial two game suspension showed he clearly did not understand what is involved in domestic violence and that Janay Rice is most likely still a victim. Did he not consider that Ray Rice put her up to pleading on his behalf? Goodell’s lack of action sent the wrong message and he apologized only after public backlash.

      • Trygvesture

        Callous and cynical in defense of their diocese of entitlement is the same be it in light of seeing a conditioned athlete cold cock his fiancee and kick her and spit on her and walk awash, or be it in light of ignoring TBI caused by the sport from which they profit. Sustaining physical harm for personal profit is not unlike Romans betting on the lions in the arena.

  • Jim Hintz

    “industrial-strength goober.” Beautiful stated. That’s why I love to read your pieces, Art.
    I know I’m in for a good ride.

  • candybar

    Mr. Goodell and the NFL had access to the video of an unconscious Janay Rice and a disinterested Ray Rice, as if she just fell off her bike in an elevator, during this “very minor physical altercation” (Rice’s lawyer). For the NFL this is the snowball of the avalanche that is coming, remember that cheerleader lawsuit, me neither, but I know now and it’s appalling.

    • art thiel

      Not sure about the avalanche, but because of the subject matter and video, a whole lot of people who didn’t care about the NFL now care.

  • RadioGuy

    Points well made, Art, but come Sunday afternoon, stadiums will be filled once again, just as the stands were full in Seattle after Sean Locklear, Bryce Fisher and Leroy Hill all were involved in domestic violence incidents of their own. Five years after rearranging Rihanna’s landscape in a far worse incident than we’ve seen with Ray Rice, Chris Brown will soon be performing on “Dancing With The Stars” and “Saturday Night Live.”

    They can fire Goodell (who used to be pretty good at his job before becoming remarkably tone-deaf), but removing a symptom from sight does little to cure the disease.

    • poulsbogary

      “Out of sight, Out of Mind” does not apply in this case, as it may have with other instances. There IS video, and it IS resonating with people.

      • art thiel

        Seeing it is much more powerful emotionally than hearing about it or reading about it.

    • art thiel

      As you point out, miscreants populate many industries, and those businesses keep producing. But we all hold sports, and the NFL, to a higher standard. Long-term, we can only hope that Rice losing his job, as well as others in the NFL losing theirs, will make have an impact on any cretin who dares raise a hand to a woman.

  • Gerald Turner

    The comisogynist in charge probably thought we was scoring points with the players, what a fool. Most players abhor hitting a woman. What a dolt, to think the video would never come out, and what the reaction would be? He is not qualified for the job, he is not qualified to run a fantasy football league. And what about Kraft defending him? There has to be some owners who have a clue of just what Goodell has become in the eyes of the public. And how about the sickening irony of Thursday game, Team let off serial rapist vs squad gets to skate wife beater. Dark day for the NFL, but the rot has been building up for quite some time under the rule of this lowlife Neanderthal brute.

    • art thiel

      Goodell set himself up for trouble in 07 when he became self-appointed executioner regarding player conduct. As far as owners caring about the Goodell’s public image, they don’t want to be stampeded by fan pressure. And they don’t have to because fans will still show up.

  • 3 Lions

    There making it harder & harder to be a fan.
    How can you identify w this anymore?

    • poulsbogary

      You can’t. We all have decisions to make.

    • art thiel

      Fair question, 3. I hope many ask themselves that question.

      In fairness, many, many coaches and players are honorable people. I hope they step forward and demand accountability if there is a coverup, or blithering incompetence.

    • 3 Lions

      If Goodell had suspended him would this all be OK? No.
      The issue is domestic violence. It is sickening to watch that video. Olberrman nailed it. I am surprised ESPN let him speak freely.
      It becomes very difficult to support teams, players & sport when people act like that. No doubt, there are countless individuals involved in sport who are dedicated & set a fine example to others but there gonna kill the golden goose if there not careful.

  • notaboomer

    we’re lost inside this lonely game we play.

  • poulsbogary

    Very tepid read for me. Many weeks ago I asked Art/SPNW on this site to take a stand on this issue, as the pre-eminent journalist in this city, to separate yourself from the pack(i.e. Kiro, KJR, Seattle Times, etc . . .) The response was–when I get around to it.
    Where is the sense of outrage? The NFL is scamming all of us. Are the print media and broadcast media in on the scam? Or can they actually step back and report on it?

    • art thiel

      In my job for this site, Gary, I try to balance multiple tasks. Sometimes I miss things, and responding to the weak Goodell punishment promptly was one of them. But I have responded and will continue to do so because it’s important to keep sports journalism independent of the sports leagues and conferences. This story is a good example of why that is important.

      The teams don’t own the truth, but readers are owed the truth. Consider me reminded.

      • poulsbogary

        Art, the phrase “independent of the sports leagues” has made my day. I was beginning to wonder. As soon as I can figure out paypal, I will be on board as a subscriber.

        • art thiel

          Well, how about that — honesty really is its own reward. And then some. Gary, you made my day.

          And we take checks too. :)

  • Guy K. Browne

    I’ve not seen/heard a discussion yet on the issue of Ray/Janay Rice, the people. Removal from the team/league seems to me a rather knee jerk reaction to an issue that needs to be dealt with. Instead, the response is to just hit the delete button and move on. I can only guess that the additional stress due to loss of income and profession will increase and not decrease the chances of future violent outbursts and domestic violence. This is a culture that the NFL (and its fans) have helped to create, seems like they should now offer to be part of the solution.

    • art thiel

      Janay Rice is victimized daily by the replay of the video, which is why I didn’t link to it. Her instagram message was heartbreaking. They’ve become a national talking point and are helpless to do anything about it.

    • Trygvesture

      Your comment about increasing the chance of further beatings rings true. She may be seen as the instigator of his current problems by simply being the one in the video, and his ramped up outrage may follow. It wouldn’t be atypical of the behavior that goes with this problem, and this, too, is a caution and a worry.

  • Pixdawg13

    Must say that Goodell, especially in that picture at the top of this column–but not only in that–looks like someone who’s totally lost and that the area behind the eyes is uninhabited. But maybe he’s exactly what the owners want.

    • Trygvesture

      I agree– he IS the owners. Their lips move when he speaks. Same for all comissioners in the monopoly of sports– it’s all about the money, protecting the money, the equity appreciation, the cash flow gains and the EZ Money gear royalties. College, too. Vincent tried to buck the trend, be independent for the good of the game, once. Once and done for him was the result.
      I think sports franchise owners should be subject to regular visits in Hell with all the other misogynistic, narcissistic slimeballs of history, just to attempt to refresh their by now residual consciences. Might not work, but it would make me happy to see it.

  • Trygvesture

    Wow– at your enraged, measured and articulate best. Nice work. ,