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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Roger Goodell's apology, explanations leave lot to be desired

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference at the Hilton Hotel on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Credit: Bryan Smith

If we learned anything from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's mea culpa Friday, it is this: The man has a long way to go before restoring his good name.

Goodell finally surfaced on Friday at a hastily called news conference in Manhattan, not only apologizing again for botching the initial Ray Rice suspension but putting up for grabs the entire premise of his stewardship of the league by proclaiming that "nothing is off the table" when it comes to rewriting the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Goodell certainly understands the gravity of his actions with regard to Rice, the former Ravens running back, and the other domestic violence cases. He knows he screwed up. But the commissioner's throw-his-hands-up-and-start-from-scratch vibe is hardly reassuring to an increasingly skeptical public.

Many players have appeared openly hostile toward Goodell and see Friday's apology as a double standard compared with his inflexibility on player discipline. Advertisers are growing more skittish than ever about associating their products with a league that cannot adequately wrap its arms around the issue of domestic violence.

Friday's unconvincing explanations didn't help the commissioner.

"Unfortunately, over the past several weeks, we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong," Goodell said before taking questions from reporters. "That starts with me. I said this before and I say it again now: I got it wrong in the handling of the Ray Rice matter. I am sorry for that."

Goodell then vowed to "get it right and do what is necessary to accomplish that."

But he is a long way from getting there -- if he ever truly gets there.

Goodell has appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to head an investigation into the handling of the Rice situation, but even Mueller's appointment has come under scrutiny. He works for the law firm WilmerHale, which recently negotiated a multi-billion-dollar contract extension between DirectTV and the NFL. Not only that, but Ravens president Dick Cass previously worked for the firm.

At best, it suggests the lack of a truly independent review; at worst, it smacks of a conflict of interest that theoretically can influence the outcome of the investigation.

As for disciplining players implicated in domestic violence situations, Goodell acknowledged the complexities involved, citing laws from different states and local municipalities that might influence decisions made by the league. It admittedly is complex, and while we applaud the league and teams for keeping Rice, the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, the Panthers' Greg Hardy and the Cardinals' Jonathan Dwyer off the field for their alleged misbehavior, there is a slippery slope when it comes to drawing up a fair and equitable system to punish players who step over the line.

Goodell was short on specifics Friday, and he bristled when the issue of Mueller's potential conflict-of-interest situation was brought up. He said he hasn't considered resigning and believes he has the overall support of NFL owners.

"The same mistakes can never be repeated," he said.

ESPN reported on Friday that the Ravens knew about a video depicting Rice punching his then-fiancee in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino shortly after it happened, and that coach John Harbaugh wanted to release Rice immediately.

The report said Cass, team owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome overruled the coach. The Ravens denied that Harbaugh wanted to release Rice right away.

Goodell reiterated in the news conference that neither he nor anyone else in the league office had seen the video until TMZ Sports published it on the morning of Sept. 8. Goodell said Rice's actions inside the elevator differed from the player's account given in June.

It's this kind of controversy that continues to flame the indignation that Goodell and the league currently faces. And no amount of apologizing can undo that kind of damage and that kind of mistrust.

Goodell has overseen an explosion of the NFL's popularity and revenue-generating for the owners who pay him. But he is in the midst of a quagmire here, and although he appears to have the confidence of his employers, the sequence of events he now confronts ultimately might be his undoing.

There is no doubt that Goodell wants to see the best for his sport. But the controversy swirling around him and the league eventually might affect his ability to properly oversee the game he loves.

He deserves the benefit of time to see if he, together with the NFL Players Association, can forge a policy that can best serve the league and address the difficult issues surrounding not only domestic violence but other societal ills that negatively impact his sport.

But if events continue to swirl out of his control to the point that enough fans stop watching and enough advertisers stop paying, time ultimately could run out for the commissioner.

New York Sports