Last Sunday night, the NFL quickly acknowledged to Saints coach Sean Payton, with the kind of profane terms in which Chris Simms routinely dabbles, that the officials erred by not flagging Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman for pass interference and/or unnecessary roughness for his hit on receiver Tommylee Lewis. Eight days later, the NFL still hasn’t acknowledged the mistake publicly.
The league has remained silent even though, per a league source, Saints coach Sean Payton privately has urged the NFL to “show some leadership” and admit the mistake publicly. The goal isn’t to rub the league’s face in it, but to ensure that a true commitment exists to avoiding these kinds of issues in the future.
Indeed, if every situation like this can be avoided by hunkering down and weathering the storm and keeping quiet until the fans and media move on, that will become the league’s new blueprint for handling such situations.
It hasn’t been that way in the past. Peter King points out in his new Football Morning in America column that the NFL has, on at least 15 and as many as 30 occasions since 2003, admitted publicly an officiating mistake.
If the league hoped that the passage of time would make it all better, the league hoped wrong. Commissioner Roger Goodell continues to be called out for not talking about the situation, with King being the latest to sound off — and with Goodell’s annual pre-Super Bowl press conference only two days away.
Other strategies for putting out the fire have failed. Last Monday’s coordinated leak campaign regarding the possibility of making pass interference subject to replay review bounced once and then landed with a thud, when people like Cowboys executive Stephen Jones and Broncos G.M. John Elway (members of Competition Committee) and Falcons CEO Rich McKay (the chairman of the Competition Committee) promptly went on record throwing water on the possibility.
Over the weekend, the league leaked to Adam Schefter of ESPN a blatantly self-serving message aimed, apparently, at simulating a public apology: “This week, Sean Payton has spoken to Roger Goodell, SVP of Officiating Al Riveron, EVP of Football Opetations [sic] Troy Vincent, Comp Committee Chairman Rich McKay. It was explained to Payton: It’s a call that officials should make. Goodell also spoke to Saints’ owner Gayle Benson.”
Schefter thereafter provided “context” (i.e., accuracy), thanks apparently to the reaction to his prior tweet. “Sean Payton reached out to NFL this week to see how it would publicly handle situation and demonstrate leadership it should,” Schefter tweeted. “NFL did not reach out to him. NFL felt the explanation that Riveron offered Payton after game — officials missed the call — was sufficient.”
Although McKay never spoke to Payton (per a league source), the rest of the second tweet is accurate. The conversations between Payton and Goodell, Riveron, and Vincent weren’t about Payton receiving an explanation. They were about Payton urging the league to make a statement as a matter of basic leadership.
Without that, nothing will change. Without it, nothing can change.