Goodell outsmarts critics with a classic bait-and-switch

GOODELLFormer FBI Director Robert Mueller has concluded that there is no evidence that the NFL lied when it said it did not see the infamous Ray Rice video prior to its public release by TMZ. In fact, Mueller didn’t even find evidence that such a tape was ever received by the NFL at all. Though some in the public may be dismayed, this report completely clears NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell; though to be fair, his job was never in any real jeopardy.

The only people surprised by today’s report are folks who don’t follow the NFL closely. This investigation has never about getting to the bottom of anything; it was about managing a public relations crisis — and giving it ample time to blow over. Mission accomplished.

But we’ve also witnessed something even more amazing: The NFL just gave a master class on how to pull a bait-and-switch to its own advantage in a moment of deep crisis. All season long, and even now, we’ve all been arguing about the wrong things. The public, along with its many media critics, wanted blood from the NFL for knowing about (and subsequently viewing) a tape that showed Ray Rice punching out his wife in a casino elevator. Despite all the other issues swirling about the entire scandal, the public willfully allowed the NFL to transform the crisis into one about who saw the tape and when. Even though the public had the league cornered on the merits, that shiny sensationalistic tape was all that people cared about. That was a product the NFL was happy to have folks chasing. Once it became all about a tape — the NFL won. Case closed.

The bottom line is that we were never going to get to the complete truth about the tape. The layers of bureaucracy surrounding any chief executive is expressly designed to prevent damaging things from reaching the CEO’s desk. Such a set up allows Goodell plausible deniability in any public relations scandal. He was never going to take the fall for the existence of some random videotape that was supposedly confirmed as received by a secretary who answers the phone. I mean, let’s be serious!

But here’s the best part — the video in question is completely irrelevant to all of this. Once we saw Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of that elevator, we all knew what happened. That should have been the end of it. And all the people who wanted Goodell’s scalp should have pressed that point. Instead, Goodell played them all like a fiddle and agreed to commission the search for a tape that he knew would never be found. Genius! It’s a classic bait-and-switch: Focus attention on the sideshow, so that folks completely miss the main event — even though it’s unfolding right in front of them.

Roger Goodell gets points and props for being far more crafty than his critics.