In the worst public relations disaster since the U.S. Navy's Tailhook scandal or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's Bridgegate, the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell have embarrassed the league in less than a week. They have become the face of domestic violence.
Credibility is so shot in the commissioner's office that the new Adrian Peterson bombshell -- the alleged branch beating of the Minnesota Vikings' star player's 4-year-old son -- the team, and not Goodell, meted out the initial punishment with a quiet "deactivation" notice for its game on Sunday. The Carolina Panthers did the same with its alleged woman-beating DE Greg Hardy. And Goodell has cancelled several public appearances. Talk about lying low in the wake of the storm.
So who cares about football?
Apparently not the National Organization of Women (NOW) or the women's advocacy group Ultraviolet, which carried out its threat by flying a banner over MetLife Stadium with the hashtag: "#GoodellMustGo."
Freedom of speech is mightier than Ray Rice's left hook.
Exhuming the Truth
The lost of control of information flow shows the NFL has structural problems inside the league's office. The bulk of the NFL's technology investments have gone toward mobility, streaming, and fantasy football, all in an attempt to part fans from more of their money. Yet the league doesn't have the pulse on its own problems. How come? With the NFL's teams of PR flacks, digital hacks, and personal and executive assistants, were they all too afraid to give sound advice to their boss Roger Goodell?
And who wants to hear from NFL owners during an investigation? Especially Daniel Snyder fending off the racial slur of his Washington franchise's team name or Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones, who was slapped with a sexual assault lawsuit last week.
Why will it take a federal type of probe with the former Director of the FBI in Robert Mueller III, backed by a team of investigators armed with e-Discovery software, to waste time and the NFL's money to get to the bottom of who knew what when? Why dive through dumpsters of paper, open thousands of archived emails, and read through a dizzying array of text messages to get to the truth? Oh, that's right, it's buried.
When data is everywhere, data is nowhere.
Here's a hint. Broken threads of email, static Excel spreadsheets, and poor version controls will not help this commissioner or future ones to stay on top of an issue. This was crystal clear last week when Goodell, in reactionary mode, told CBS News ambiguous statements that what happened at the June meeting with Ray Rice was "ambiguous."
There was nothing ambiguous about a lifeless body of a woman being dragged out of an elevator.
So the disinformation over a potential cover up forces Mueller's specialists to forensically wade through the fragmented pools of data. It's akin to piecing together details from the debris field of a plane crash. That kind of forensic research is what I do for a living in the construction industry, as well as a freelance journalist. It's time consuming, but when you know where to look, ambiguity has no place left to hide.
Beyond the outrage over an odor-producing cover up, nowhere data sums up the public sentiment for Commissioner Roger Goodell. He appears clueless, thus no longer trustworthy.
CSI Forensics Needed in the NFL
If I could piece together what happened on that short elevator ride back in August from my home in the article, Why Should Women Support the NFL, then Roger Goodell and his office stocked with all the ex-law enforcement stiffs could have done the same thing. But none of them did. Why?
The NFL didn't respond to my request to comment.
Before TMZ Sports (nice oxymoron) aired the elevator video last week, the only piece of information I didn't have on Ray Rice was: Did he hit Janay with the right or left hand? Everything else I knew. So how come Goodell and Baltimore Ravens' owner Steve Bisciotti didn't grasp the brutality of the incident? Are they surrounded by "yes" men, people who lack critical thinking, and people who can't strategize on how to speak to the public in a genuine way? It appears so.
In August, I sent Roger Goodell my article through one of his brothers, who I grew up with, and the NFL's press office. To say he didn't know the extent of the violence, which I spelled out, well, in his words on ignorance not being bliss, "he should have known."
Fixing the Credibility Gap
There are a handful of women NFL owners and part owners, including Virginia Halas McCaskey, Chicago Bears; Martha Ford, Detroit Lions; and Carol Davis of the Oakland Raiders. Why doesn't the NFL prepare one of them to speak about domestic violence issues? Anyone but Goodell, Jones, or Snyder's face or voice would be a good place to start.
Other sports journalists, such as ESPN's Suzy Kolber on NFL Countdown, recommended that Goodell should "fine himself one million dollars and donate the money to domestic violence organizations." That's also sound advice.
Whatever the quasi-independent investigation uncovers, the real crisis Roger Goodell and the NFL are facing begins with transparency -- we live in an open source world today. Take note, Jerry Jones. Trust and transparency carry the burden of "ownership" of a problem.
This issue is not only about players' behavior, but about players' safety, too.
Football's concussion epidemic will sink the NFL's plans for growth if the trend of attrition of mothers keeping their children from playing the sport continues. The NFL, not Pee Wee or Pop Warner football, needs to fix the safety problem.
A new report, stating that more than a third of today's players will face mental health issues later in life, casts a dark cloud over the future viability of the sport.
The NFL needs to be transparent on concussions. It needs to take the lead over the other governing bodies, and not hand it off to the NCAA, high school, or junior football programs.
That will only begin by admitting there is a problem, then taking ownership to cure it.
[Disclosure: I grew up with Roger Goodell and knew him while playing high school football.]