- - Monday, August 5, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Watching NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sweat and squirm on a witness stand would be highly entertaining under most circumstances. However, as enjoyable as the spectacle promises to be, we need to draw the line somewhere.

Put him under oath for queries about the wildly inconsistent rulings on personal conduct suspensions? Sign me up. Ask him about the league’s historical resistance to brain science and concussion studies? Make some popcorn. Administer truth serum — or at least a lie-detector test — to grill him on Colin Kaepernick’s lengthy unemployment? I’m all for it.

But force Goodell (and game officials) to answer questions about a blown call in January’s NFC title game? That’s going way too far.

Unless you’re a Louisiana judge and, presumably, a New Orleans Saints fan.

In case you missed it last week, State Civil District Court Judge Nicole Sheppard ruled that a damage lawsuit can proceed against the NFL over the blatant no-call that arguably cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl. Sheppard’s ruling allows attorney Antonio LeMon to request documents and ask questions in depositions of Goodell and three game officials.



Described in media reports as a “superfan,” LeMon deserves credit for this much: He strategically crafted his lawsuit to keep it in state court, seeking only $75,000 in damages (which he said would go to charity). The NFL successfully argued that other no-call lawsuits should be moved to federal court, where rational judges rightly dismissed the cases.

“I feel that (the NFL‘s) record in the federal courts is way too good,” LeMon told the Associated Press, adding that he prefers his case be tried under Louisiana law and jurisprudence.

“The purpose of this lawsuit is not to get some minuscule amount of money,” he said. “They won’t even notice that. It’s to get at the truth.”

The truth isn’t even hiding in plain sight. It’s jumping and waving its arms unceasingly, a Times Square billboard that’s being live-streamed on a viral loop.

Not much to uncover in discovery.

The refs blew the call — either pass interference or roughness — against Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman when he laid a helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Tommylee Lewis. Otherwise, the Saints likely would’ve run out the clock and kicked a game-winning field goal instead of losing in overtime.

But LeMon said he wants a “mountain” of evidence in the case, which alleges fraud by NFL officials. “I want their personnel files; I want their gradings,” he said. “I want their notes from the game.”

Unless he finds photos of wise guys in a hot tub with the officials, a string of text messages between them and a bunch NFC betting slips, there’s nothing to see. The NFL in January admitted a mistake was made.

“Because the officials on the field are humans, like the players and coaches, errors will happen,” league attorneys said in a brief, responding to a lawsuit from Saints season-ticket holders who wanted Goodell to order a do-over.

“The NFL parties do not dispute that they have previously advised the Saints that one or more penalties for pass interference or illegal helmet-to-helmet contact were mistakenly not called late in the NFC Championship Game, and that the NFL would like its officials on the field to make these calls.”

I’m not sure what Sheppard was thinking in greenlighting LeMon’s case. Minus evidence of offenses such as bribery, extortion and kidnapping, game decisions and court decisions should never mix.

Officials in the NFC title game might be guilty of the biggest, most obvious blown call in sports history, putting themselves in contention with Dan Denkinger’s gaffe in the 1985 World Series and the basketball crew that gifted-wrapped the Soviet Union’s gold-medal victory in the 1972 Olympics. But none of those blunders warrant the filing of lawsuits.

Besides, LeMon and other plaintiffs conveniently overlook an undeniable fact: The play was dependent on a slew of bad calls and non-calls that possibly took place in the game’s first 58 minutes. Surely Saints fans wouldn’t propose reviewing and reversing plays that worked in their favor before Robey-Coleman blasted Lewis.

Barring a successful appeal by NFL attorneys, Goodell and the game officials are expected to be deposed in September. By then, we might be two or three weeks into the regular, meaning Goodell could have another call/no-call crisis on his hands.

Have you seen the new replay rules this year?

All pass-interference penalties — called or uncalled — can be challenged by a coach (or the replay booth in final two minutes of each half). And on those challenges, everything is on the table for review, not just pass interference.

Goodell likely will fidget his way through controversial decisions ahead, which seem inevitable. That should be satisfying enough, without his affidavits and sworn testimony.

The court of public opinion will suffice.

⦁ Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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