Sam Mellinger

Sam Mellinger: A kind-of compliment for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — taker of arrows, spewer of nonsense

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell answered questions at a news conference Wednesday in Houston.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell answered questions at a news conference Wednesday in Houston. The Associated Press

You aren’t likely to hear this anywhere else, because of all the dang haters in the media, but the NFL did something very smart here this week by letting Roger Goodell out of his cage early in the week instead of late.

The NFL commissioner’s soft-toned, misleading, no-no-no-we-don’t-only-care-about-money address had become a Friday tradition during Super Bowl week.

This year, they moved it up to Wednesday, which had two positives for the league: fewer reporters around, and it pushes this obligatory mess further away from the game.

“If I’m invited back to Foxborough, I’ll come,” Goodell said, hilariously, as if the only thing keeping him from a Patriots game is owner Robert Kraft sending a driver.

Goodell, of course, alienated the Patriots and a sizable chunk of his own credibility with the bogus investigation and because-I-can punishment based on junk science and, reportedly, a long-held score to settle.

He hasn’t been to a Patriots game in the two years since the investigation, awkwardly hitting up the last two Falcons games. A Patriots win over the Falcons on Sunday would give us the world’s best scene of enemies shaking hands since Tom and Jerry.

Goodell knew all of this was coming. This is the price of being the voice of the owners of a league so often derided as greedy, arrogant, and contemptuous of its work force. More specifically, it’s the price of being all of that and only availing himself to a press conference twice a year.

It’s why the league’s owners pay him tens of millions every year. He takes arrows for the owners, on issues and stances of their choosing, with a steady face and tone.

Five things to know about the Falcons and Patriots before the Super Bowl in Houston on Sunday, Feb. 5.

One highlight: a Boston radio reporter opening his time on the mic by “fact-checking” Goodell, and then asking whether he acknowledges he has eroded the public’s trust. That was followed immediately by Sophie Schneider, an adorable and perky Olathe seventh-grader who won an NFL contest to be a “Super Kid,” grabbing the mic and saying, “my question is going to seem a lot easier compared to all this madness.”

The truth is that if you knew someone completely unfamiliar with the NFL — a newborn baby, perhaps, or an alien — you could do worse to explain it than Goodell’s press conference.

He was asked about money, teams relocating, drugs, gambling, investigations into potential criminal behavior, Mexico, domestic violence, and Tom Brady, all in about 40 minutes.

At times, he was smart:

“As to whether gambling can coexist with the NFL, in fact it does. It’s happening today. It’s sponsored by governments. It exists throughout our world.”

At times, he was genuine:

“One of the things we truly believe in our hearts is the NFL really does bond communities together, and can be a bridge. It can unite people. We’re going to see it this weekend. People are going to tune in, and they’re going to celebrate. They’re going to forget about other things for at least a short period of time, and really focus on having fun and being entertained by the Super Bowl.”

At times, he made simple solutions sound unnecessarily difficult, unless the following is advanced calculus:

“We have five (commercial) breaks per quarter. We think we can do it with four breaks per quarter. That’s something we’re looking very heavily into.”

At times, he was unapologetically misleading about the Patriots investigation, unless by “facts” he means junk and by “courts” he means having the legal right to punish any player any way he wants:

“We came to a conclusion that was supported by the facts and the courts.”

At times, he was dismissive, turning into a human shrug emoji about the Chargers leaving San Diego after nearly 50 years:

“It’s a process that has to identify a solution that’s good for the community as well as the team, so they can not only coexist, but benefit long-term.”

That’s football, right? All of that. The beauty, the ugly, and the struggle.

Football’s clothes are off in this post-CTE-denier world. Those of us who love the sport have come or are coming to terms with the sport’s dangers, particularly in levels far below the NFL.

And while Goodell’s league may do greed and arrogance better than any other American entertainment enterprise, it certainly does not have a monopoly. This, too, is something the rest of us have to make peace with. Love the sport, dislike the suits in charge is not limited to football.

So, Goodell is not the boogeyman he’s often made out to be, including in this space. He is the symptom, not the disease. The billionaires who own NFL teams have made him a millionaire many times over in exchange for his promoting their goal of world sports domination.

Maybe those of us who’ve so often criticized him for often being obtuse and focused solely on revenue have it all wrong.

Maybe we should compliment him on personifying the NFL so accurately.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger