Surprise, surprise. Look who decided to show up to the party.
On Friday, for the first time in the nearly two weeks since the New England Patriots’ “Deflategate” scandal broke, embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell finally stepped off his crumbling parapet to address the media -- assuring gathered members of the press, “I’m not going to do anything to compromise the integrity of the league.”
A little too late for that, Mr. Commissioner.
To begin with, there’s Deflategate, which, if you somehow haven’t heard, alleges the Patriots used footballs that were deflated below the legal limit during their AFC championship game victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
“[I]f we have any information that rules were violated, I have to pursue that and I have to pursue that aggressively,” Goodell said at his presser. “So this is my job. … We will do it vigorously, and it is important for it to be thorough and fair.”
Figuring out why some footballs in a football game were slightly underinflated would seem like an easy enough task for the head of a multibillion-dollar organization. But this is Goodell and the NFL we’re talking about. For the better part of two weeks the league has maintained that it won’t conclude its investigation into Deflategate until after the Super Bowl. That, however, hasn’t stopped it from leaking small, seemingly incriminating bits of info on Deflategate to the media -- creating a circus that has completely eclipsed the biggest event in American sports.
This week, video was uncovered of a Patriots assistant taking the now-infamous illegally deflated footballs into the bathroom with him for 90 seconds. (Can’t wait to see that Zapruder film.) Did any high jinks occur in the bathroom? Did this attendant help the Patriots cheat? The NFL says it has no idea. Nor did Goodell offer any clarification Friday. He also didn’t bother to correct conflicting reports about how deflated the game balls actually were.
One team competing in the biggest football game of the year may have been cheating. But, don’t worry, Goodell and company will sort it all out when they get around to it.
On its own, the embarrassing incompetence with which the NFL has handled Deflategate might be nothing more than fodder for a few (hundred) ball jokes. But this is just the latest of recent public relations disasters for the organization -- and probably the least serious.
Last year, Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice punched his fiancee unconscious in an elevator. Instead of cracking down on Rice, the NFL suspended him for two games and tried to keep the incident quiet. (Meanwhile it suspended Browns receiver Josh Gordon 10 games for marijuana use.) When the video went public, launching a nationwide outcry, the NFL simply suspended Rice for the entire season, in lieu of admitting any fault in its own handling of the situation.
A report submitted by former FBI Director Robert Mueller after he investigated the NFL’s role in overseeing the Rice affair concluded, “The NFL should have done more with the information it had, and should have taken additional steps to obtain all available information about the … incident.”
In other words, for the NFL, it was see no evil, hear no evil when it came to domestic abuse.
And how about this: Last year, when then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling got caught on tape making racially insensitive remarks in the privacy of his own home, he was rightfully shunned by the NBA and forced to sell his team.
The NFL, meanwhile, boasts a team with an actual racial slur for a name and has done absolutely nothing about it for decades.
Then of course there’s the fact that the NFL heralds over a game that leaves approximately one-third of its players with long-term brain damage. Of course it took years of fighting and a $765-million settlement of a lawsuit brought by many of the league’s retired players for the NFL to admit that the sport put its employees’ brain health in serious jeopardy, and to provide long-term medical care for those affected.
For Angelenos, all of this ridiculousness isn’t inconsequential. For the last several years, officials throughout the Southland have been clamoring to bring an NFL team back to the L.A. area. The city of Los Angeles was (and might still be) ready to hand Anschutz Entertainment Group acres of prime downtown real estate to build a stadium. The current plan du jour, meanwhile, would build a stadium in Inglewood — and cost the public coffers upward of $100 million in tax rebates.
Given the NFL’s handling of its rampant concussion problem, it spousal abuse problem, its racism problem and now its inability to get to the bottom of something so seeming innocuous as slightly deflated footballs, Angelenos need to start asking themselves why exactly we’re going to such great, and potentially expensive, lengths to land a team.
Football is a thrilling, often beautiful (if violent) sport. But let’s not forget that the NFL is a seemingly amoral organization run by a coterie of incompetent boobs. Roger Goodell and Deflategate are just further proof of why Los Angeles should run as far away from professional football as we possibly can.
Matthew Fleischer is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter @MatteFleischer.
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