Even best-case explanation for Roger Goodell makes him and NFL look woefully incompetent

·Columnist
Roger Goodell is under fire for his handling of the Ray Rice case. (USA TODAY Sports)
Roger Goodell is under fire for his handling of the Ray Rice case. (USA TODAY Sports)

Roger Goodell's competence is shot. His credibility isn't too far behind.

Whether his employment as NFL commissioner follows likely hinges on if the Ray Rice scandal continues to flare up and damages the league in a tangible, long-term way (i.e. revenue).

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that law enforcement had, indeed, sent the NFL surveillance video of former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice punching his then girlfriend in a casino elevator. The wire service reported hearing a voicemail from an NFL employee confirming the receipt and apparent viewing of the video.

"You're right," a female from the NFL said on an April 9 voicemail. "It's terrible."

The report counters Goodell's repeated claims that the NFL was stonewalled by law enforcement when it sought the tape. Thus, he claimed, neither he nor anyone at the league offices saw the depraved footage when Goodell handed down a meager and much criticized two-game suspension early this summer.

Once the video came out via TMZ, which acquired it after the Atlantic City casino closed, the scandal shifted away from Rice and to the once Teflon commissioner.

What did Goodell know and when did he know it?

Goodell has been firm in his defense that he never saw the video, both in an interview with CBS Tuesday and a letter to the league Wednesday. He also said, "to my knowledge" no one in the league had seen it. The NFL stuck by that Wednesday.

"We have no knowledge of this," the league said in a statement. "We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it."

Which means the investigators are now investigating themselves.

Conversations throughout the NFL the past couple days have centered on one consistent belief: no one can fathom Goodell would cover up this incident or try in any way to protect Ray Rice.

Most conspiracy claims have been laughed off because Goodell is a fierce pro-owner commissioner (they are his bosses, after all) who rarely views any player as anything more than "labor." That would certainly be true of a fading talent such as Rice. For Goodell to risk his job and reputation for Rice is impossible to conceptualize.

Then there is this, NFL insiders say. Even if he was somehow moved to do so or did see the video (and even more improbably wasn't troubled by what he saw), by the time such a piece of evidence reaches the commissioner it's been viewed by many in the league office. Goodell would have to risk future exposure in an effort to go easy on some cog in the machine, perhaps in the face of real-time protests of anyone with a soul who did see it.

Janay and Ray Rice met with Roger Goodell in June to discuss the February incident. (AP)
Janay and Ray Rice met with Roger Goodell in June to discuss the February incident. (AP)

The more likely scenario is that he and his security team did a shoddy job on the incident, in part because they remain mostly disinterested in domestic violence. This is disgraceful, but it's not a cover up.

If the video was, indeed, sent to someone at the NFL offices, they failed to do anything with it and Goodell never heard about it. Maybe this is the fault of one employee (convenient, of course). The NFL had 30 players and one owner (the Indianapolis Colts' Jim Irsay) suspended for Week 1 of the season. Disciplinary incidents are fairly regular.

That's the best-case scenario though. It would still speak to an epically bad investigative team and include an employee not only failing to push the evidence up the chain of command but later lying when, presumably, the league started asking if anyone saw the video this week.

And that's the best case.

The worst is … well, it could be anything at this point, which is why some fans have their conspiracies racing. Everything is fair game against the NFL. It has only itself to blame.

Goodell has done himself no favors since the scandal broke, remaining defiant about the NFL's efforts and blaming law enforcement for not turning over the tape to the league. He also claimed the league didn't attempt to get the footage from the casino directly because it wasn't a "credible" source, when it's more likely it either didn't think of it or didn't try.

The problem is multiple: First, the source of an authenticated video hardly matters. It is what the tape shows. Second, when would casino security not be considered "credible" especially since that is obviously where the police received the video. How does the middle man (the cops) make it credible?

Goodell would have been far better off coming out and claiming without detail that the league blew the investigation and hadn't, under his watch, taken domestic violence seriously. He should've named himself chief among the people who need better understanding of the issue. He should've promised a complete internal investigation and overhaul. He should've allocated more resources to those domestic violence cases, including investigators specifically trained for the issue. Finally he should've said the league would use its considerable bully pulpit (via in-game public service commercials) to attempt to educate fans on this scourge.

Some humility would have helped. He could've then sat tight and waited for Sunday's kickoffs to distract everyone.

Humility, however, has never been Goodell's strong suit. What we got was traditional Roger, seen as arrogant and aloof, the son of a U.S. senator who can hardly be bothered by criticism of his actions or genius.

Well, that veneer of capability is gone, at least with most of the public. Goodell's word means nothing, he's being mocked by the hour on TMZ, and the only thing that can save him is if he isn't caught in more discrepancies.

NFL owners have made huge money under Goodell's watch, with a labor deal won over the players, media contracts bringing in huge sums and franchise values rising exponentially. The owners like him.

He can be replaced though.

This entire affair has soiled Goodell and made him look like a hypocrite for punishing franchises such as the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots, claiming each organization was responsible for the conduct of all its members, whether it knew or not.

So is that still true?

"No one in the NFL, to my knowledge [saw the video]," Goodell said on CBS.

"None of the law enforcement entities we approached was permitted to provide any video or other investigatory material to us," Goodell wrote in a letter to the league.

Neither statement appears true now. That doesn't prove Goodell saw the video before Monday or was involved in a cover up for Ray Rice.

It doesn't rule it out though and it certainly shows he has no idea what's going on in his own offices.

So the Nixonian questions shift:

What else does Goodell supposedly not know and when do we find it out?