The independent investigation to be conducted by former FBI director Robert Mueller won’t be completely independent. It will be overseen by a pair of owners — John Mara of the Giants (pictured) and Art Rooney II of the Steelers.
That dynamic raises a fair question about just how independent the investigation will be, especially since it was Art Rooney’s father, Dan, who a little more than eight years ago personally informed Roger Goodell that he’d been elected Commissioner. Will Mueller have the ability to gather any evidence, ask any question, explore any angle that he wants? Will he be permitted to consult with, for example, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue regarding the dynamics of the league office and the identity of the persons most likely to know whether the video of the Ray Rice assault had indeed made its way to 345 Park Avenue?
The notion that Tagliabue, who subtly but decisively dressed down Goodell when appointed to review the player suspensions in the bounty case, would have any direct or indirect input in the investigation would send shock waves through the upper reaches of the league office. But how can an investigator with no ties to the NFL know how to go about turning the rocks without talking to the man who most recently was in position to know where the rocks are?
Actually, perhaps the best way to get to the truth would be to have Tagliabue, not Mara and Rooney, oversee the investigation. Or maybe even to conduct it.
Ultimately, what will Mara and Rooney do with the results of the investigation? Will they be released to the public entirely? Will they be partially concealed? Will they be skewed in a way that justifies keeping Goodell in place and results in other key members of the administration quietly taking jobs as Pac-12 athletic directors?
Some think that the decision to punt the ball to Mueller will take the heat out of the kitchen long enough to allow the story to die down and the growing chorus of media, fans, current players, and former players who want to see Goodell ousted to find something else for which to randomly clamor. In reality, the Mueller appointment gives the story a much longer shelf life.
Because the scandal ultimately involves the Commissioner, the story will continue to hover ominously over the NFL until the investigation has ended and any consequences have been determined. At some point, there will be owners who choose to lobby for change simply because that will be the only way to return the nation’s focus fully and exclusively to the game of football.
And if there’s any hint or sign or whisper that the investigation is anything but independent, legitimate, and complete, the league will end up spending years, not weeks, undoing the damage. That won’t be good for the game, and it won’t be good for the folks who otherwise are quietly printing cash by the billion.