Roger Goodell is utterly shameless

The tough thing about being NFL commish is the ethical and moral implications. Specifically: you can't let them get in the way of protecting human toads Daniel Snyder.

I’m going to start with the Washington Football Team, which should not be confused with the Washington football team I cheer for (the Huskies). We get to UW at the bottom of today’s newsletter, but first, when I returned to New York on Tuesday, I discovered the NFL commissioner was here in New York City putting on a particularly stomach-churning performance in which he continues to get in the way of real accountability for Daniel Snyder. That’s where we’ll start today:

It’s not easy being the NFL commissioner.

Seriously. It’s a tough job. Just not in the way that we usually use the term. It is not tough because of the labor required. There’s a lot of travel, but I’m going to bet it has been a long time since Roger Goodell has taken a commercial flight let alone had a middle seat in coach. It is not a hard job in terms of the logistics, either. Someone else is figuring out the schedule and divvying up byes. There are accountants to calculate the salary cap. The commissioner doesn’t even negotiate the collective-bargaining agreement. That’s what lawyers are for.

What makes being commissioner hard is the ethical and moral implications of the job. More specifically, you can’t let those sorts of things get in the way of the larger purpose, which is to serve as a human meat shield that protects the owners from unflattering scrutiny. The commish is the corporate front who takes the flak for the complaints that result from lockouts and criminal complaints. A firewall to keep any inquiries from getting too close to the big business of franchise relocation and stadium construction. And in especially difficult circumstances, the commish is the guy who stands up on stage on a Tuesday in New York — in front of God and everyone — and says that the league opted against a written report of the serial oppression that took place within the Washington football franchise out of concern for those women who were its victims. Seriously. He said that, using his soft voice to convey both the severity and the sincerity.

“We think protecting the people that helped us get to that place,” he said, “the people who have unfortunately had to live through that experience, that we respect them and make sure that we protect them.”

Shenanigans, said an attorney representing 40 women who formerly worked at the Washington football team.

The commissioner is providing protection here, but he’s certainly not protecting women like Emily Applegate, who was one of the former employees who came forward to disclose the harassment and abuse she faced while working for the team. While those interviewed by investigators were given the option of anonymity, Applegate said specifically that there was no mention made of not providing

The NFL released a 243-page report on the investigation into New England’s use of under-inflated footballs — a report that was debunked by actual scientists by the way — yet didn’t anyone put a pen to paper to summarize the abuse of women inside the Washington football team. We learned from the reports that triggered the investigation that we did from the actual investigation. Sponsors were given access to photo shoots of cheerleaders who were not fully clothed and had no control over who was seeing them in various stages of undress. Videos were made of outtakes from the shoots. Women who worked in the office were routinely berated. One had her backside grabbed by a wealthy suiteholder, and her boss was indifferent when she complained. Women who did not work for the team, but covered it as independent reporters, had to fend off sexual advances and innuendo from employees in the personnel department.

The franchise did what is part of the corporate playbook for these sorts of scandals. It commissioned an investigation to get to the bottom of things. Beth Wilkinson was hired to conduct the investigation. After additional reports of past harassment were published, the NFL announced it would be the one responsible for acting on the findings of the investigation. The league fined the team $10 million in July, and owner Daniel Snyder was prohibited from day-to-day control of the franchise in a punishment so tepid Goodell didn’t even say how long that would be for. On Tuesday, Goodell stated that Snyder had been held accountable and he defended the league’s decision not to produce a written report of the investigation’s findings but to receive only an oral summary.

“We summarized the findings of Beth,” Goodell said, “and made it very clear that the workplace environment at the Washington football team was not what we expect in the NFL and then held them accountable for that. But more importantly, steps were put in place to make sure it does not happen again.”

The lack of transparency has again become an issue after the contents of several emails were made public first in the Wall Street Journal then later in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. There was a current NFL coach — Jon Gruden — sending emails to Bruce Allen, a former president of Washington’s franchise, making plainly racist insults about the head of the players union, using homophobic slurs and alleging the commissioner pressured the Rams to draft an openly gay player. Gruden resigned four days after the initial report. Another batch of emails showed a chummy relationship between Allen, the former Washington executive, and the league’s top attorney in which he mocked league diversity initiatives. It’s enough to lead a reasonable person to think that the lack of a written report was to help conceal just how bad things were — and maybe are — in Washington, and to then wonder what else was found in that investigation.

This is where Goodell’s job gets hard. Not because it is physically taxing nor intellectually difficult. It is hard because he has to stand up there as a human being with a functioning brain and presumably some semblance of a soul and insist that the league is acting toward some greater good when it is blatantly obvious that the league is acting to protect one particular owner in spite of the fact that this owner allowed his franchise to operate like a frat house. Wait. That’s not true. Were the Washington Football Team a frat house, it would have been dissociated and shuttered based on the things that are reported to have happened there. And yet here’s Roger on Tuesday using that soft voice as he utters superlatives about the standards of the league.

“Our focus remains is to make sure that all our clubs operate at the highest level as far as our workforce and workplace,” Goodell said, “and making sure we set the highest standards. We actually spent some time talking about that (Tuesday), and will continue those discussions going forward because it’s an important thing for us.”

I’m not sure how smart Goodell is, but he’s not a complete idiot. He knows the role he is playing here, which is to protect the absolute toad of a human being that runs the Washington franchsie as opposed to doing the moral and ethical thing, which would be an actual accounting for what happened in Washington and who was harmed. But what did I say earlier about letting ethics or morals get in the way?

As far as jobs go, Goodell’s is particularly lucrative. He reportedly makes more than $40 million in annual compensation, but the size of his paycheck almost makes it harder for me to understand Goodell’s willingness to be a human shield because he has made an awful lot of money in the 16 years that he has served as the commissioner. Enough that most people would decide they didn’t have to act like a clueless corporate dolt to protect an amoral invertebrate like Snyder. But once again, that’s the commissioner’s job. The question I have is why anyone would keep doing it.

Now for the Washington football team I root for: Here’s the link to my weekly UW football podcast with Christian Caple of The Athletic where we’re already on our second name in three shows. We explain why after I complain about quarterbacks. A lot.

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