This version of the Roger Goodell “state of the NFL” press conference mimicked most Roger Goodell “state of the NFL” press conferences. The commissioner would finally be forced to answer questions on the latest catastrophe gone unaddressed. His answers would not satisfy. Other years it’s been Deflategate, domestic violence, social equality protests. This year’s version: The no-call on Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman in the NFC Championship which helped alter the course of NFL history.
Goodell started the presser reading a speech that read as if written by a 13-year-old (“The Patriots are playing in their eleventh Super Bowl. Who could say more?”) in a manner that sounded like he was seeing it for the first time on the podium. Blah. Blah. Blah. Fluff. Fluff. Fluff.
Then came the questions. It took four to get to the Saints controversy. Many followed. Goodell mostly punted. While he acknowledged that the call should have been made, he mostly escaped by lauded his communication with Sean Payton and Saints owner Gayle Benson. He continued by noting that tech could help but only to an extent, noting, “the game is not officiated by robots.” He mentioned taking a look at instant replay but in a way that screamed lip service. Mostly he offered his typical blanket non-response infused with a dose of bafflement.
“We try to get better. We try to learn…I don’t think the game has ever been officiated at this level. It’s extraordinary,” he said halfway through a barrage of questions on the subject.
What Goodell failed to offer is any comfort to Saints fans. When asked why he waited so long to discuss the no-call, he strategically mentioned his communication with the team for a second time,
“We addressed this immediately after the game. The coach announced the conversation and the fact that this play should have been called. … That’s our process.”
But therein lies the issue. This is a public matter. Saints fans don’t care a private conversation between coach and commissioner. There may be no utopian way to satisfy an outraged fan base. There is nothing Goodell could say to make things whole but an immediate acknowledgment that the pass interference should have been called and a vow to at least examine the tenets of instant replay in the offseason would have showcased some element of leadership. To go into hiding as the commissioner does on so many issues is disrespectful to the game.
His reactiveness was on display for much of the presser, fielding a number of questions on issues gone unaddressed. Goodell was asked about the lack of minority coaches and GMs and effectiveness of the Rooney Rule, an issue that has garnered much attention in the last few weeks.
Goodell’s response was a relatively generic, “We don’t look at success or failure in one-year increments.” He did note that he would be meeting with several Coaches at the upcoming Combine so perhaps there will be more action steps.
He again fielded questions about Colin Kaepernick, the first related to the stain on the musical cache in Atlanta for Super Bowl week. Goodell responded, “ We have great artists performing all week. This is the biggest stage and I know people want to be part of that.”
And what about that overall stain on the league, whether he believes Kaepernick should be in the NFL?
“If a team decides that Colin Kaepernick or any other player can help their team win, that’s what they’ll do.”
Goodell is mired in litigation with Kaepernick so his non-response was a bit more understand but it’s still indicative of the bigger issue.
Goodell is supposed to be the face of the league, putting out fires, yet he’s done few interviews in the last two years as issues continue to transcend the league. He hides in the face of conflict. So instead of a state of the NFL presser mired in announcing new ideas and initiatives, he stands on a podium uncomfortably swatting away the issues deepest to the integrity of the league.
Perhaps next year the 32 owners should stand up there instead.