Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: The end of Roger Goodell?

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is coming under fire – again – for his handling of Baltimore Ravens tailback Ray Rice.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is coming under fire – again – for his handling of Baltimore Ravens tailback Ray Rice. AP

The most powerful acronym in sports is not NFL. It’s TMZ, whose video release Tuesday of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-girlfriend, now-wife Janay, has created a firestorm of controversy.

Mostly it has made us question how the NFL and how its commissioner, Roger Goodell, could not have been privy to this video before it was released to the masses.

Goodell previously suspended Rice for two games after TMZ’s video of Rice dragging a limp Janay from an Atlantic City casino elevator was released. Most could not believe the penalty was more severe. Yet Goodell and the Ravens went out of their way to point out how Rice had been trying to put his life back together in therapy, symbolically patting him on the head and telling him he was a good guy.

Well, Rice is not a good guy. And Goodell looks woefully out of touch as not only the NFL’s commissioner, but its attorney general. Goodell took on the role of the league’s disciplinarian and has been in over his head. As an example, why in the world is Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Greg Hardy, convicted of domestic abuse this summer, still drawing an NFL paycheck and putting on a Panthers uniform?

The NFL is America’s favorite sports league, by far. It earns billions of dollars for its owners, advertisers, players, general managers, vendors and on and on. It has taken its popularity for granted because it can. And while I appreciate and agree with those who say Goodell must now be dismissed, I’m skeptical that it will happen.

Yes, the NFL has a public relations nightmare on its hand. But will it have any affect on television ratings? People are outraged, but will they stop supporting the league?

Of course not.

It’s easy for those of us in the media to express outrage over the way Goodell has not handled this situation with Rice. But will the league’s owners have the same concerns?

Probably not, unless the NFL’s sponsors threaten to pull back their money.

Women could have a huge say in all of this. Domestic abuse is a terrible problem in American society and it’s possible that women, usually the victims, could come together and force the NFL to deal harshly with Goodell, whose denial that he knew about the second TMZ video reeks of dishonesty.

It speaks to the arrogance of Goodell and the NFL that he and the Ravens continue to deny knowledge of the second video. Hopefully, those who cover the league and its teams will continue to prod him and the Ravens about what they knew and when they knew it, because what they’re saying now simply isn’t plausible.

The NFL had a chance to set a tone with domestic abusers, but chose to be passive. It reminds me of how baseball commissioner Bud Selig dealt with its PED abusers during the mid- to late-1990s, choosing to bury his head in the stand and revel in all the long balls instead of confronting a major blight on the game.

Finally, though, Selig did get tough and serious about cleaning up baseball and the game has benefited greatly, both on the field and off.

I question whether Goodell will take a similar initiative because I don’t know if he’s willing or even capable of getting off of his high horse. Without the second TMZ video, does anybody doubt that Rice would have been back on the field after his two-game suspension?

It’s beyond my pay grade to understand why Rice’s wife continues to defend him, blaming the media for tearing the couple’s lives apart. This is what she wrote in an Instagram post earlier Tuesday:

“I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it’s reality is a nightmare itself. No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted [opinions] from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret everyday is a horrible thing.

“To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!”

It’s unfathomable to me that these words come from the same woman who was knocked out by her soon-to-be-husband in that elevator in February. Obviously, I have no knowledge of what their relationship was like before or how it has been since.

Like you, I have only the two videos. And those are enough for me to discern that Rice’s punishment should have been swift and severe, that the NFL and the Ravens waited too long to appropriately deal with this and that I don’t trust either when they say they had no knowledge of the damning second video before TMZ posted it on its website Monday.

Ideally, Goodell loses his job over this travesty. But I’m skeptical that the NFL owners, swimming in money and afraid to rock the boat, will give him more than a slap on the wrist.