By Joe Starkey
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
New England Patriots chairman and owner Robert Kraft, right, and National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell chat before the Super Bowl XLII football game between the Patriots and New York Giants at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2008 in Glendale, Ariz.
Mr. Tough Guy. That was Roger Goodell last spring.
Following his first season as NFL commissioner, Goodell vowed to refurbish the league's image. He put some meat to his promise by issuing a series of player suspensions.
Nobody messed with The Commish. People praised him -- but their compliments look silly today, amid the ever-expanding saga that is Spygate.
Goodell has become as big a story as Bill Belichick in this matter and looks every bit as bad.
Goodell's the one who ordered the destruction of evidence documenting the New England Patriots' illegal videotaping of opposing coaches' signals.
Goodell's the one, according to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who levied the penalty before receiving all the evidence of New England's activities.
That penalty -- fines plus the forfeiture of a first-round pick -- looked ridiculously lame compared to Goodell's draconian treatment of wayward players. He didn't suspend Belichick and didn't even have the guts to take New England's top pick (No. 7 overall) but rather their lower first-round pick.
Before all this, back when Mr. Tough Guy was doling out suspensions like Skittles, The Washington Post quoted David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at Southern Cal, thusly:
"(Goodell) has succinctly delivered a message of what the NFL stands for and what it expects. He understands that falling short on these issues would hurt his brand and hurt the owners' ability to generate revenues. He understands what it would mean if the sponsors came to regard the NFL as 'The Longest Yard.' "
What would it mean if the sponsors learned of a devious coach cheating his way to Super Bowl wins?
That might be a gross exaggeration, but there is so much we don't know about Belichick's operation. We'd likely know more if the NFL had conducted a serious investigation and, you know, kept the evidence. You have to wonder why Belichick continued the practice for so long if it wasn't providing a competitive advantage.
Belichick has denied a report he had a St. Louis Rams workout filmed the day before the 2002 Super Bowl, but why should anybody believe him?
Here's another beauty of a quote from the same Post story.
Remember, this was long before Spygate.
"(Goodell) understands, like we in ownership understand, that the American public wants to become emotionally involved in our teams and players," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. "That's the reason these companies spend the money they do and these (television) networks spend the money they do. Certain behavior isn't tolerated by the American public."
Thank goodness Specter came along. Only a person in a position of power could have prevented Goodell from burying this issue. After his meeting with Goodell last week, Specter said he was told Belichick's cheating goes back to 2000, a tidbit Goodell had conveniently avoided mentioning in public.
Look, Specter probably has questionable motives. He's probably grandstanding. But he also has become football's answer to Jose Canseco - the wacko who blew the whistle.
Somebody had to do it.
And if you think the NFL would look bad if Spygate reached a courtroom or the Senate floor, imagine somebody with clout pressing Mr. Tough Guy on players and their pharmaceutical habits.
Here's what Goodell said when this reporter asked him, in October, 2006, if the NFL has a problem with performance-enhancing drugs:
"I don't think it's a problem."
That was funnier than anything Burt Reynolds said in "The Longest Yard."
Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.