Sam Mellinger

With Super Bowl at hand, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is spouting non-truths again

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the media Friday in San Francisco.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the media Friday in San Francisco. AP

If you ever bore of another empty analysis of the Super Bowl, or Peyton Manning retrospective, or story about Johnny Manziel’s future, here’s a good way to pass the time between now and kickoff:

Does NFL commissioner Roger Goodell really believe the nonsense and obvious non-truths that come out of his mouth?

This is said with all due respect to Goodell’s hustle, because there are many in the world who push blatant falsehoods to protect a corporate brand and get paid far less than $44 million per year for the trouble.

We are well beyond the point of digesting his talking points as anything resembling an honest attempt at productive dialogue. He is a highly paid spinster, a middle-aged man who looks the part and fills his tailored suits well and protects the forever-exploding profits and financial reach of the NFL.

The best part about the gig, from Goodell’s perspective, must be that none of what he says really matters. The NFL is too powerful to be hurt by his nonsense, and too popular to be dragged down by the ugliness he is paid to polish. As bad as the NFL is on some points, the sport it sells is astonishingly popular so it all ends up good for the league no matter what the commissioner says.

“The concussion issue is something we’ve been focused on for several decades,” Goodell said, and, no, really: he said that. Out loud. In front of people. And did not immediately start laughing. He actually went even further, saying that player safety is the NFL’s top priority, and fogging up the whole issue by saying “there’s risks to sitting on the couch.”

No. Honest. He said that, too.

Reasonable minds can disagree here, but this faux concern about concussions was my favorite of Goodell’s obvious non-truths, a word that’s used intentionally because in the man’s defense, what he said there is not a total lie. “Several decades” could mean 20 years, and, sure, the NFL has been generally aware of concussions for at least that long. Also, yes, you can get hurt sitting on your couch if someone breaks into your house and punches you in the face.

It’s just that, well, when he said the league has been focused on concussions for several decades, he did not continue by saying, “and when I talk about ‘focused on,’ obviously I mean focused on hiding, obscuring, and confusing the issue to the general public because I have generations of Goodells to feed and our business model benefits when parents allow their children to play tackle football at unnecessarily young ages.”

No, that’s not what he said. What he said was an amazingly brash non-truth, even by Goodell’s standards. Just the day before, in a conference room adjacent to where the commissioner pretended to care about concussions in any context other than profitability, a member of the league’s head, neck and spine committee repeated the NFL’s incredible contention that there is no link between football and the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

This is insulting to common sense, science, and the work of any credible researcher who is not obligated to say what the NFL tells him to say. It also happened the same day ESPN reported the league is funding research away from potentially inconvenient truths about football and CTE. But, you know, there’s ongoing litigation and big money to protect, so march on.

The Star's A-Team discuss a NFL news conference that was taken over by CTE talk during Super Bowl 50 week.

Goodell was in top form, all right, calling on some questions that appeared planted and making his way through others with empty rhetoric that answered and promised nothing. He really is talented at this, expertly using the NFL’s power and popularity to his advantage.

It truly does not matter what he says in these settings, and it is no small thing that he rarely answers questions from reporters. The less he says, the better for the league, and he must be buoyed by the fact that the highest-profile time he takes some unscripted questions happens two days before the league’s biggest event.

This time of year, most people don’t care about what Goodell does or doesn’t say, and those of us who do have just over 48 hours to talk about it before the Super Bowl reminds us all that the machine keeps going.

It’s brilliant, really, which is why Goodell can stand up and pretend the NFL negotiated in good faith to keep the Rams in St. Louis, or that players don’t deserve neutral arbitration in discipline cases, or that the fact that cheerleaders are paid an embarrassingly small sum is something he cares even a little about.

He did say something substantive about one issue, but if we’re honest, even that is an example of his emptiness and proclivity to deceive.

It was about the Pro Bowl, that “major” issue for the NFL, but it was telling that Goodell said he “was disappointed in what I saw on Sunday.” He mentioned that this is something he’s been concerned about for years, and that it was a letdown that changes to the league’s all-star game did not make for a better product last week.

“Our biggest standard has to be what we expect from the NFL, and what our fans expect from the NFL,” he said. “If it’s not quality, if it’s not real competition that we can be proud of, then we have to do something different. That’s my No. 1 priority right now.”

Goodell may or may not be too buried under a pile of his own rhetoric to realize it, but that is, pretty much, exactly the stance the league should be taking on head injuries.

It’s a shame he won’t address an issue affecting lives of his players and potentially the future of kids who play the sport the same way he does some frivolous exhibition game in Hawaii. Because his standard on concussions should be what fans expect from the NFL, and if it’s not quality or something they can be proud of, they should do something different. That should be his No. 1 priority right now.

Of course, what he won’t say is obvious and the reason for the whole charade:

The Pro Bowl is a place the league can make more money, and the issue of head injuries is the greatest threat to the league’s future and profits.

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