Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Goodell-King Fiasco: A Disaster for the Commissioner, Apology Required

Wow does Roger Goodell owe Ben Roethlisberger and every other NFL player a big apology. For those not familiar with the story, yesterday Peter King published excerpts of interviews gathered from a season spent following the NFL Commissioner in his Monday Morning Quarterback article on SI.com. A larger article is to be featured in the print edition of Sports Illustrated that hits newsstands today, but King teased that piece with five items that didn't make the print issue in his on-line column.

In that column, King quoted Goodell as having interviewed two dozen Steelers in the process of gathering information to determine the length of Ben Roethlisberger's suspension and reportedly said not one of them "had his back." Don't bother looking for King's original quote because he has already retracted it and apologized, writing that he assumed when Goodell was talking about "players" he meant "Steelers." The Commissioner apparently called to clarify that was not the case, but why would Goodell be seeking opposing players' comments on Roethlisberger and why would they "have his back?" It makes little sense.

While King is responsible for making a significant and thoughtless error in reporting, it is Goodell who has violated the trust of players across the league--something that surely isn't going to serve him well as he tries to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the players' union. The Commissioner, in his singular role as judge and jury (a role Ann Killion would like to play as I wrote yesterday after her attack on Roethlisberger), has a responsibility to gather as much information as possible before meting out fines and suspensions. To share that information with the media demonstrates a startling lack of judgment and an inexcusable breach of trust, undermining his credibility with players and fans alike. The thought that any player would agree to speak "confidentially" going forward in regard to any investigation is a stretch.

Peter King and Sports Illustrated held on to this story (King attributes the quotes to a January 7 interview with Goodell) to have maximum impact during Super Bowl week. But what point did it serve Goodell to bring any of this up, particularly with the Steelers participating in the playoffs? His role as Commissioner is to enhance and support the image of the league. Talking on record to a journalist about private meetings that took place at least four months prior serves little discernible purpose. Further, the reasons cited that players' didn't have Roethlisberger's back were "stories like, 'He won't sign my jersey.'" That is as laughable as it is insignificant.

In the same piece Goodell is also on record as saying he "doesn't feel any connection with Ben Roethlisberger"--a statement not retracted by King. The Commissioner's personal feelings about any player should be his and his alone, less he show an appearance of not being impartial in his oversight of the league. With many on the Steelers feeling the league office has inappropriately targeted them for aggressive hits, this only adds fuel to the fire.

Goodell isn't the only one taking a hit. Peter King's reputation is also damaged. Local beat writer Ed Bouchette was all over King's story and immediately squashed the credibility of Goodell's statement even before King retracted it. Bouchette spells out how ludicrous King's details are here saying what a low blow the Commissioner dealt to Roethlisberger. For King to take Goodell's word that two dozen Steelers did not have Ben's back suggests a) King is just a mouthpiece for others' thoughts and does very little analytical thinking about what he is told, b) he is completely out of touch with a team like the Steelers and what goes on in their locker room, or c) both. Regardless, this significantly damages his credibility as an "NFL Insider."

This article has blown up in ways King and Goodell never imagined and it is not going to go away quickly. King has apologized for his mistake. If Goodell thinks King's misinterpretation and apology somehow also gets him off the hook he is making another huge error in judgment. Goodell now doesn't just owe Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers an apology, he owes the entire league an apology.


erin leaver said...

It's really too bad. I love Peter King, but he clearly made a big mistake here. It's good that he realized it and retracted though...

Barb Heidenreich said...

Another incredible article! You are 2 for 2 - keep up the great work!

ctharrison23 said...

Another great one, Hammer. I'm pretty sure in Journalism 101 you are taught to get your facts clear and straight before putting them out there. King is usually alright, but this is media malpractice. You can't unring a bell, and apologies and retractions are basically useless. Goddell needs to worry more about a work stoppage (and now violating players trust) than punishments already meted out. His credibility already took a shot with his "our #1 priority is player safety, now lets add more games" foolishness. Funny, seems like it's more about the money.