- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the old days, the Super Bowl used to be the end of the NFL season — the days before Roger Goodell reigned over the league.

Now, though, there is the investigation wrap-up portion of the league schedule — which, despite being time-consuming, the NFL is getting at some sort of discounted rate, apparently.

Why else would Goodell — in the only moment he had to go off script in his state-of-the-game address Friday — mention the costs when CNN’s Rachel Nichols questioned him about the conflict of interest of having investigators with financial ties to the league conduct probes like the Ray Rice investigation and Deflategate?

“I think we have had people that have uncompromising integrity,” Goodell responded. “Robert Mueller is an example of who — I think you asked me the same question last fall about a conflict of interest — their integrity is impeccable. Ted Wells’ integrity is impeccable. These are professionals that bring an outside expertise and an outside perspective, and their conclusions are drawn by the evidence and only by the attempt to try and identify that truth.”

Of course, we have to take Goodell’s word for the leap of faith that both investigators were not hired just because they work for law firms that has done millions of dollars of business with the NFL.

“I think we have had done an excellent job of bringing outside consultants in,” he said. “Somebody has to pay them, Rachel. Unless you’re volunteering, which I don’t think you are, we’ll do that.”

What does that even mean? Did Mueller give the NFL a blue light special on the Rice investigation because his law firm does business with the league? Is Ted Wells just tossing in the “Deflategate” investigation as part of a 2-for-1 leftover from his Richie Incognito probe?

Was Goodell’s point a completely independent investigation — you know, one where the person doing the investigating hasn’t profited before from the organization directly affected by the investigation — would be too costly?

Is a compromised investigation cheaper than an independent one?

Goodell probably had no clue what he was saying when he responded to the question. If it didn’t have to do with how great the league is doing, how much the league cares about its players and fans, and, well, “the NFL is made up of good and caring people,” the NFL commissioner was a little lost for answers.

For the opposing view of Goodell’s state of the game address, I yield my time to the late senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Spector, and the statement he read into the Congressional Record, in May 2008, concerning “Spygate” — when the Patriots taped the New York Jets’ defensive signals in violation of league rules:

“The NFL’s Investigation was not objective, transparent or adequate … the lack of candor, the piecemeal disclosures, the changes in position on material matters, the failure to be proactive in seeking out other key witnesses, and responding only when unavoidable when evidence is thrust upon the NFL leads to the judgment that an impartial investigation is mandatory.

“There is an unmistakable atmosphere of conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest between what is in the public’s interest and what is in the NFL’s interest. The NFL has good reason to disclose as little as possible in its effort to convince the public that what was done wasn’t so bad, had no significant effect on the games and, in any event, has all been cleaned up. Enormous financial interests are involved and the owners have a mutual self-interest in sticking together. Evidence of winning by cheating would have the inevitable effect of undercutting public confidence in the game and reducing, perhaps drastically, attendance and TV revenues.

“The public interest is enormous. Sports personalities are role models for all of us, especially youngsters. If the Patriots can cheat, so can the college teams, so can the high school teams, so can the 6th grader taking a math examination. The Congress has granted the NFL a most significant business advantage, an antitrust exemption, highly unusual in the commercial world. That largesse can continue only if the NFL can prove itself worthy. Beyond the issues of role models and antitrust, America has a love affair with sports. Professional football has topped all other sporting events in fan interest. Americans have a right to be guaranteed that their favorite sport is honestly competitive.”

Goodell doesn’t look any better in 2015 than he did in 2008.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.


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