A decade ago, Roger Goodell served as the right-hand man to former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. A “wingman,” one unnamed executive recently told Gabriel Sherman of GQ in a new profile of Goodell.
By 2005, Goodell wanted to be the guy with the wingman.
“He was getting impatient,” Tagliabue told Sherman, who noted without specifically quoting a source that Goodell was “agitating” for Tagliabue to relinquish the throne. At one point, Goodell reportedly considered leaving for ESPN.
Now, as Goodell tries to guide the league and his own career through murky waters in large part of his own making, Tagliabue would be a great person to give him some advice — especially regarding, for example, challenges like how to deal with anecdotal evidence that a team may be underinflating footballs. But Goodell doesn’t take advantage of the experience, knowledge, and expertise of his predecessor.
“We haven’t talked much since I left,” Tagliabue told Sherman. “It’s been his decision. Bountygate didn’t help.”
Tagliabue is referring to his role as the hearing officer in the appeals of the Saints players Goodell suspended in 2012. Tagliabue overturned all punishments, based in part on a belief that it was unfair to selectively enforce the rules regarding a broader cultural phenomenon against only one small group of players. The point? If a certain practice has become widespread in the sport, catching and severely punishing one violator in the hopes that everyone else will clean up their act isn’t the best way to solve the problem.
Coincidentally (or not), that could be one of the basic realities of the latest rules controversy undermining the sport. If the Patriots were causing footballs to be underinflated in order to make them easier to throw, they surely weren’t the only ones doing it.
But the Patriots have become the only ones investigated for it, and they likely will be the only ones disciplined for it — if the NFL ultimately can develop proof that something improper was occurring. Even if the NFL finds no smoking gun, the cloud of suspicion will reside over the Patriots, indefinitely.
“There’s a huge intangible value in peace. There’s a huge intangible value in having allies,” Tagliabue explained to Sherman.
The shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach won’t promote peace or the development of allegiances. In the bounty scandal, Goodell created enemies in New Orleans. Now, he’ll have to choose between preserving whatever credibility he has left in the wake of the Ray Rice case and preserving one of his staunchest supporters in Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who could be on the brink of an epiphany that eventually could lead to Goodell being interviewed about the challenges faced by his successor.