When I watched NFL commissioner Roger Goodell give his state of the NFL speech last week at Super Bowl 50, I thought of the Brian DePalma film “Scarface” — Tony Montana, drunk in a Miami restaurant, surrounded by people who watched as he made his declaration of arrogance and invincibility.
“Me, I always tell the truth,” Tony said. “Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!”
That was Goodell speaking to reporters when he made his own declarations of arrogance and invincibility.
“There’s risks in life,” Goodell said, responding to yet another question about player safety in football, in light of seven high school football players dying from injuries this past season. “There’s risks to sitting in the couch.”
That was a bad, bad guy coming through.
Would that have been the answer he would give face-to-face to any of the parents whose sons died from playing the game that Goodell declared is the best way to teach “discipline, teamwork and perseverance?”
It may be time to say good night to the bad guy.
Super Bowl 50 was yet another week of festivities to celebrate the game that does seem bulletproof. More money is pouring in than ever before, more people are watching than ever before. People can’t seem to get enough of football. No matter what shots are fired against the league — corruption, concussions, chaos — it seems as invincible as Montana did sitting in a bubble bath in his Miami mansion, the king of an empire that produced a product people couldn’t get enough of.
Empires like Goodell’s and Montana’s, though, don’t fall from the outside. They crumble from within, a small piece at a time, until, when faced with cultural changes, it collapses when it can no longer withstand the corruption and chaos. And every battle they fight — even when the league is seemingly at its strongest, as it appears to be now — takes a toll.
The whole “Deflategate” saga will take a toll, even though NFL fans will profess to care less about the controversy. It takes a toll when the one of the league’s most important partners, the New England Patriots, are so despised by their partners that they manufacture a scandal that targets Tom Brady, one of the biggest stars in the NFL.
Think about it. “Deflategate” meant owners decided they would do all they could to bring down one of the NFL’s most successful franchises and damage the reputation of one of faces of the league, because they could, because they are the NFL, and nothing or nobody can stop them.
Goodell wouldn’t have flinched if the Patriots and Brady — who he suspended for four games for alleged “conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football — would have been in San Francisco last week as one of the teams in Super Bowl 50.
Instead, he had another league icon, another legacy NFL star, there who is being investigated for an alleged use of banned substances: Peyton Manning, who sells the NFL on insurance commercials, pizza commercials and on all sorts of marketing platforms. He is not just the legendary future Hall of Fame quarterback who has represented what the NFL supposedly stands for — “discipline, teamwork, perseverance.” He is also a suspect.
Add those on top of the weight that may prove to be too much for the NFL to bear — concussions — and it may be approaching the time to say good night to the bad guy.
The NFL will celebrate the induction of former Oakland Raiders quarterback Kenny Stabler into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August. Stabler won’t be there. He’s dead from colon cancer, passing away in July. But his family — like so many other families of NFL players — donated his brain for study, and they found that he had advanced chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the degenerative brain disease believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head.
Last year, at the Hall of Fame ceremonies, they posthumously inducted Junior Seau — who had committed suicide three years earlier and whose family is suing the NFL for brain damage they claim he suffered from football.
The bad guy said in his state of the league speech that the NFL is “investing aggressively in research so that we can get the answers to perplexing problems that we don’t all have, including science. But we’re not going to wait for science. We’re going to get out and make changes in our game. We’ve seen the benefits of that. We’ve seen the positive changes.”
Of course, they are doing this with research that fits their agenda. ESPN has reported the NFL has awarded grants to organizations connected with the league and has pulled funding on federal studies with researchers the league didn’t approve of.
Goodell also spoke of the league’s efforts to take football to other countries.
“Growing the game also means building our success internationally,” he said. “Our games in London have been a tremendous success. We’ve already sold out all three games for 2016, which is for the third consecutive year. We will work hard to continue to expand our game on a global basis.”
This was the strategy of tobacco companies when their product domestically became culturally unacceptable.
Still, with all this going on, millions of people watched Sunday’s game. Millions of dollars were spent by businesses wanting to be connected to that game. The NFL continues to print money, despite all the corruption and chaos — just like Tony Montana did, until his girl friend told him in a real moment of truth, “Can’t you see what we’re becoming Tony? We’re losers. We’re not winners, we’re losers.”
⦁ Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.