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The Goodell Press Conference: A Critical Perspective

After a disastrous presser on Friday, how could the NFL Commish have handled it better?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell looked pretty bad at his first press conference in 9 days. How could he have looked at all better?

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell looked pretty bad at his first press conference in 9 days. How could he have looked at all better?

Embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally broke his silence. Yet, after Friday’s press conference, he may as well have just kept it.

In his first public statements since September 10, the Commish again admitted to making mistakes – in particular, regarding his handling of the Ray Rice debacle, saying that “the same mistakes can never be repeated” – and vowed that the NFL would “get our house in order first”, in order to get the public’s trust back.

He went on to map out plans for a “conduct committee” that he hopes to have established by the commencement of Super Bowl XLIX, and announced partnerships with a domestic violence hotline and a sexual violence resource center as a response to the ongoing PR crisis. Ultimately, for many who were listening, his words either rang hollow, hypocritical, or simply ignorant.

For example, the mere fact that Goodell essentially came out of hiding to deliver a statement that essentially said little to nothing of substance was an insult enough for many. There were no bold statements to hang his hat on, when this may have been the most opportune time to make them – no matter how PR-targeted they would have been perceived to be. There were no proclamations of a solution to the domestic violence issue – only vague inklings of a possible plan down the road. With the issue hanging over Goodell’s head for as long as it has, one would think he’d have a concrete plan by now.

According to Goodell’s words, apparently not.

Then, there was the fact that he kept reiterating that he made mistakes regarding the domestic violence cases such as Ray Rice that have put him in this mess to begin with. The tone of the entire press conference rang of “forgive, forget and move forward” – particularly with regard to his previous fallacious actions. He even went so far as to say, in light of calls for his resignation, Goodell boldly claimed that he hadn’t even entertained the possibility of resigning.

The problem with that, clear as day for his critics, was the utter hypocrisy behind his stance. He was essentially asking for the chance to make up for his mistakes, when players he tagged for a variety of on-field and personal conduct infractions were afforded no such leniency. Should a true leader not hold himself to the same standards as the people he leads?

According to Goodell’s words, apparently not.

Finally, it was pretty clear that Goodell was either unable – or simply refused – to give substantive, clear answers to the questions many had on their minds: When did the NFL see the damning Ray Rice video? Why conduct an “independent” investigation with someone from the FBI with close ties to the NFL? Is it still appropriate for Goodell to have the “be-all, end-all” power when determining personal conduct violation punishments?

CNN and Turner Sports reporter Rachel Nichols pelted Goodell with these questions and more, citing his “extreme unilateral power”, as well as independent investigator Robert Mueller III’s past relationship with the NFL and the possibility of a conflict of interest. It was clear to most everyone listening that Nichols had Goodell dead to rights – many lauding the former ESPN reporter for her no-holds-barred line of questioning – yet the commissioner continued to dodge like a professional boxer.

"Alright, Roger. If that's how you wanna play it ..."

“Alright, Roger. If that’s how you wanna play it …”

Ultimately, many in the media questioned whether Goodell even realized how bad he looked once the conference was over.

According to Goodell’s words, apparently not.

In the interest of fairness, the commissioner was walking into a Kobayashi Maru of a presser – that’s “No-win Situation” in non-Star Trek geek-speak – and he probably knew that. He may have figured that, sooner or later, he was going to have to face the media monster for his actions – or lack of action, as it were – regarding domestic violence. Might as well do it on a Friday.

But it can’t be ignored – despite the situation, there was a right way to conduct this press conference. And, ultimately, he came at it all wrong.

So, if that’s the case, how could he have come out of this press conference looking like he did something right? Well, I’m glad you asked:

  • Address the current domestic violence cases, and how he plans on dealing with them. No vague statements – Goodell could have simply told us, with no uncertain terms, how he plans on handling the cases involving Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, San Francisco 49ers DE Ray McDonald, Arizona Cardinals RB Jonathan Dwyer and Carolina Panthers DE Greg Hardy. Perhaps differentiating between cases in which the subject had been either convicted (Hardy), charged (Peterson) and accused (McDonald) would help as to not paint a broad brush on the issue. If that meant deactivation, due process, or however it should be dealt with – he could provide a blueprint, and call it such. At least then, we, as a public, can have an idea of what he will likely do – and if it changes, he can keep the public posted. Full disclosure is something the NFL should probably utilize right now.
  • Don’t treat the situation simply as a crisis. Whether he looked like he was spreading the blame to the NFLPA, or society at large, Goodell seemed to be alleviating the domestic violence situation from himself. And while he may have a point that domestic violence is a societal problem, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t take the crisis in the NFL by the reins and do something with it. We know the old saying about the chinese word for “crisis”, right? (Sure, it’s fallacious, but go with me on this.) Create a meaningful dialogue with major groups that deal with domestic violence (instead of merely “partnering” with them, which could mean a variety of things) and create an environment that actually treats these situations with the utmost seriousness. Create a comprehensive action plan, and stick to it for the long-term.
  • At least entertain the possibility that his job is on the line. With all of the calls for his job – including the most recent from the National Organization for Women – this is no time to be prideful about anything; most particularly, with his status as commissioner. There’s no getting around it – this whole thing revolved around a major sociological crisis that had to be handled correctly, and Goodell simply didn’t handle it correctly. Like it or not, his job should be on the line, and he should acknowledge that. To say otherwise comes off as ignorant or, even worse, blindly stubborn. To say that he didn’t think about resigning shows a further disconnect between his status as a leader and the league in which he needs to lead. Had he even said that he thought like a true leader and considered resignation – rather than essentially say that he is too focused on fixing the problem to be dealing with any resignation nonsense – it would have done him a world of good in the eyes of the media and the public.

In any case, Goodell can do one of two things, at this point, to appease the masses:

He can take swift action on the domestic violence crisis, whatever that may look like;

Or, he can resign.

Your move, Roger Dodger.

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