During the season, the NFL relies on an endless stream of bright, shiny objects to distract attention from controversy. Those objects shine brightly on Mondays, Thursdays, and Sundays.
But that can’t keep the league from completely avoiding scandal. The issues arising from the Washington Football Team investigation continue to linger. The deadline for responding to the letter from Congress seeking more information about the probe and the NFL’s handling of it arrives Thursday.
The most recent flare-up regarding the WFT investigation was self-inflicted. Last Tuesday night, Commissioner Roger Goodell conducted a press conference, and he faced several questions about the situation. His responses, and the fair criticism thereof, fueled the news well into Wednesday and beyond.
Consider Peter King’s comments from Monday’s Football Morning in America column. “I think my one takeaway from the league meetings is how tone-deaf Roger Goodell sounded, standing in front of the press on Tuesday and saying the sanction on the Washington football team and owner Daniel Snyder was just,” King writes. “The tone-deaf part, mostly, is insisting the league is protecting the aggrieved women’s collective privacy, when several of the women are begging for the investigation’s finding to be released. I kept thinking about how the NFL is aggressively moving to appeal to women fans, to increase the number of women who watch and follow the game. Those are the women who have to be thinking how crazy it is that the league is protecting Daniel Snyder over the women who worked for him and were wronged.”
It could have been worse. Normally, Goodell speaks at the end of the quarterly meetings, usually in the afternoon of the second day. This time, his appearance was tucked into the end of the first day, with a press conference that began at 7:00 p.m. ET, after repeated messages to the reporters that it “might” happen on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.
The ensuing cluster of the impromptu acceleration made the assembled reporters no less prepared to pounce. The league may have been caught off guard by the number and intensity of the questions. After several WFT-related topics, a league official rushed a microphone to Tim Graham, who covers the Bills for TheAthletic.com. The obvious hope was that he’d change the subject by asking for an update on the team’s effort to build a new stadium.
Of course, that subject didn’t land on the agenda until the second day. By the end of the first day, nothing new had happened with the owners regarding a potential Bills stadium in the Buffalo area.
Graham confirmed that events. “My main thing is I’m grateful for the chance to ask the question, but I didn’t want to,” Graham told PFT. “I wanted the focus, for the sake of my colleagues, to stay on more important issues.”
They did, even though it’s hard to do it at a press conference. As explained last week, Goodell needs to sit down for an extensive, one-on-one interview with the opportunity for meaningful follow-up questions — and not a one-hour softball batting-practice session with Morten Andersen, which went largely unnoticed for nearly two months (and which has grown from only 112 views to 124 views in the two days since it came to light).
Goodell won’t. Goodell can’t. But maybe he’ll eventually have to answer questions from members of Congress.
In that setting, there will be no one to whom a staffer can rush a microphone in the hopes of changing the subject.