Just a few hours after the NFL held its crown jewel event, with millions around the world watching Super Bowl LVI, this was the headline on the league’s own network:
“Dolphins’ Stephen Ross could lose team by owner vote if NFL investigation into tanking allegations proven true.”
After a rough week of answering charges of racism and misogyny, the NFL could have used a memorable Super Bowl. They didn’t get it.
The Los Angeles Rams’ 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday was compelling only in the sense that both teams underperformed at a level to leave some questions about which team would last long enough to win.
There were 12 punts, split between the two teams. You might want to sell this as a defensive struggle, given the outstanding play of Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald in the final minutes of play. But there was none of the leftover buzz that had followed the divisional and championship games in the weekends leading up to Super Bowl LVI.
There was simply nothing, which meant it was time for the NFL to get back to business that seemingly consumed it in the week leading up to the game — answering questions on its racially-charged coaching hiring practices levied in a lawsuit filed by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores and covering up sexual misconduct allegations against the Washington Commanders and owner Dan Snyder.
That’s it. A few hours on Sunday night of respite from the turmoil, then it’s right back at it Monday.
Not even a trip to Disneyland.
Commissioner Roger Goodell and his crew had until 11:59 p.m. Monday night — Valentine’s Day — to comply with an order from the House Oversight Committee to hand over thousands of documents from the Beth Wilkinson coverup of the Washington Commanders’ sexual misconduct charges.
Last week, the NFL didn’t seem too eager to cover up for Snyder anymore, although they’ll likely implicate themselves in any revelations about the Wilkinson investigation. At this point, they may have finally realized that being Dan Snyder’s partner means always having to say you’re sorry.
After former Commanders employee Tiffani Johnston’s comments to the committee roundtable discussion about sexual misconduct that implicated Snyder directly, including charges he tried to force Johnston into a limousine in a 2006 incident, the beleaguered owner said once again they would conduct an “independent” investigation that would clear Snyder of the charges. If you remember, that was how the Wilkinson investigation started, and the NFL took it over, all in the spirit of cooperation among partners.
This time, not so much.
This time, Goodell ridiculed the notion that the Commanders would investigate themselves.
“I do not see any way that a team can do its own investigation of itself,” Goodell said in his annual news conference during Super Bowl week. “That’s something we would do. We would do it with an outside expert that would be able to help us come to the conclusion of what the facts were.”
Fact? We’re going to have facts this time?
If that deadline for the release of those is not met, it could result in subpoenas from the committee, and ultimately, public hearings with Goodell and Snyder forced to testify under oath.
That was what finally turned the steroid hearings on Capitol Hill and resulted in stricter drug testing — the players union tiring of the embarrassment and fallout from being forced to testify before the country.
Finally, there are the Jon Gruden racist, homophobic and generally subhuman email exchanges between the former Raiders coach and former Washington general manager Bruce Allen — thousands upon thousands of such love letters that got Gruden dismissed and has led by a lawsuit by Gruden against the NFL and Goodell. No one knows what lays ahead for the Commanders if those are revealed. Nothing good, likely.
The NFL has a great tolerance for such shame. After all, the damage off the field doesn’t appear to be affecting the profits on the field, with strong viewership this past season.
But the league sells itself on being part of the community — not the part that people have to fear.
As the glow of Sunday’s Super Bowl disappeared as quickly as the confetti dropping onto the field, so likely did the pain of Commanders fans watching Rams coach Sean McVay win the Super Bowl after leaving the Washington staff in 2016. Commanders fans better get used to that pain. Former Washington assistants coaching their teams in the Super Bowl may be an annual occurrence (Kyle Shanahan — 49ers; Matt LaFleur — Packers, and now Kevin O’Connell — Vikings).
Washington fans have realized their pain is not on the field. It is at the top of the rotten food chain of the Commanders, where Snyder has ruled, exile or not.
On Monday morning on 106.7 The Fan, The Sports Junkies posed a question to their listeners: what would they rather have — the Commanders in a Super Bowl or Dan Snyder forced to sell the team? Not one caller said Super Bowl.
What is happening on Capitol Hill right now is their Super Bowl.
⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.