Roger Goodell open to removing himself from NFL punishment process
NEW YORK — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, coming off a defeat in court over his handling of the “deflategate” scandal, says he’s open to changing his role in how the league disciplines its players. But he’s also now under the microscope for how he handled another New England Patriots scandal eight years ago.
On the “Mike & Mike” show on ESPN2 on Tuesday, in his first public remarks since the NFL lost in federal court in the Tom Brady “deflategate” case, Goodell said he is open to changes in the player disciplinary process, with the potential of setting up a panel or discipline officer to handle punishment of players.
The process has become “extremely time-consuming,” he said. “I have to be focused on a variety of other issues, and that’s what I’ve discussed with many of the owners over the last couple years.”
Goodell did not say that he was removing himself from power. It would be the process that could change.
“We believe that the standards of the NFL are important to uphold,” Goodell said. “We believe that you don’t delegate that responsibility or those standards. We think that somebody with a deep knowledge of the game and our policies and our rules (is) important, particularly when it relates to competitive violations. Those are important to have, so there’s got to be a system in there somewhere.”
Goodell said he would not be at the NFL regular-season opener Thursday night, which has the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers. He said he didn’t want to be a distraction. Instead, Goodell said, he’ll be attending the Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears game in Chicago on Sunday.
“The focus should be on football,” Goodell said. “It should be a great night on Thursday night. I certainly don’t want to be a distraction to that, but I think everyone wants to get back to football, and certainly I do.”
But the focus isn’t just on football. It’s not even solely on “deflategate.” Now, it’s also on the older scandal known as “spygate.”
‘Deflategate’ — started with ‘spygate?’
At the beginning of the 2007 season, the Patriots were caught videotaping the New York Jets coaches’ hand signals during a game. The scandal became known as “spygate.” Goodell fined Patriots head coach Bill Belichick $500,000. The team was fined $250,000 and lost a first-round draft pick.
Many people thought the Patriots got off light on “spygate.”
Now, an ESPN “Outside the Lines” report presents new allegations on how the commissioner handled “spygate,” and how “spygate” might have affected his handling of ‘”deflategate.” Among the points in the ESPN report:
When the “deflategate” investigation started, an unnamed NFL team owner said it was time for “a makeup call,” according to the report.
An unnamed longtime executive said that several NFL owners wanted Goodell to “go hard on this one,” ESPN reported.
According to the report, Goodell ordered league executives to stomp tapes into pieces and to shred papers related to “spygate” inside a Gillette Stadium conference room.
The report says the Patriots videotaped opposing coaches during at least 40 games over a period of several seasons from 2000 to 2007.
Goodell never attempted to verify how many total games the Patriots videotaped, according to the report.
The Patriots issued a strong denial to the ESPN report, calling it “unfounded, unwarranted and, quite frankly, unbelievable.”
On “Mike & Mike,” Goodell said that he had not read the report.
“I am not aware of any connection between the ‘spygate’ procedures and the procedures we went through here,” Goodell said. “We obviously learn from every time we go through any kind of a process, try to improve it, get better at it, but there is no connection in my mind to the two incidents.”
Another high-profile case lost
Goodell came down hard on the Patriots in “deflategate.” Quarterback Tom Brady was hit with a four-game suspension, though that ultimately was nullified in federal court. The Patriots organization was fined $1 million and forfeited draft picks.
Goodell said the NFL’s litigation team will continue the appeals process in the case.
“With success, sometimes when you’re having litigation, you lose in the initial phases, and you get to the right place when you have that long-term view, which we do, and there are many cases like that.” Goodell said.
Goodell later added, “You also have to understand you’re not going win them all.”
And the NFL has not had a good track record against the NFL Players Association lately.
In February, U.S. District Judge David Doty overturned the suspension of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson, who pleaded no contest in the whipping of his child, had been suspended by the NFL for the last six games of the 2014 season and through at least April 15. The NFL appealed Doty’s ruling.
The punishment in the Ray Rice case was overturned by Barbara S. Jones, who was a neutrally appointed arbitrator and former federal judge. Rice had been suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating the personal conduct policy when he punched his then-fiancee, now wife, in an elevator at a New Jersey casino.
In the New Orleans Saints “bountygate” case in 2012, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ruled in favor of the players who had been suspended, saying Goodell and the league failed to follow proper procedure in discipline. The NFL had said from 2009 to 2011, Saints players “pledged significant amounts of their own money toward bounties” for injuring or knocking opposing players out of the game. That payout amount doubled and tripled for playoff games, the league said.
Saints head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the 2012 season, while the NFL levied an indefinite suspension on former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was accused of masterminding the bonus program. Four players were suspended, although some of their terms were reduced and some were cleared. In his ruling, Tagliabue overturned the suspensions of the players.
And the NFL may not be done seeing the inside of federal courtrooms. According to ESPN, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy planned to consult with the NFL Players Association about the possibility of going to court to seek a reduction in his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Hardy was initially convicted of domestic abuse in 2014, but that conviction was later overturned on appeal when the alleged victim did not show up to court. In July, Hardy’s suspension was reduced from 10 games to four by arbitrator Harold Henderson.
“We need to sit down and figure out how do we get to a better position on our discipline procedures,” Goodell said. “Whether it’s the personal conduct policy, or whether it’s integrity of the game policy, those things have to be determined by us and collective bargaining agreement. They have been effectively done in the past, and they should be going forward.”