LOS ANGELES — No, Roger Goodell’s answer about Deflategate data on Wednesday wasn’t satisfying or believable.
The commissioner would have to be an ostrich to not know what happened to the PSI data that the NFL collected during the 2015 season in response to the Patriots’ ball-deflation scandal. It sure seems like the league purposely destroyed the data because it bolstered the Patriots’ case and not its own.
To which I say to Patriots fans: Get over it. Now you know how the other 31 teams felt about Spygate.
Goodell on Wednesday claimed ignorance about last week’s report from Pro Football Talk that, per orders from NFL executive Jeff Pash, the league expunged the PSI data it collected in 2015. And Goodell didn’t respond to a question about whether Tom Brady, the Patriots, and their fans deserved to see the data after the league spent two years fighting with them over ball inflation.
“A long time since I’ve thought about Deflategate,” Goodell said. “And I don’t know what happened to the data, to be honest to you.”
Feelings of anger and revenge have resurfaced for Patriots fans, who believe that Brady and their team were framed and unjustly punished in Deflategate.
But let’s not forget Spygate. Remember that scandal from 2007-08, in which the Patriots were docked a first-round pick but the investigation was open and shut in four days? When none of the other owners, or anyone else in the league, got to see any evidence because Pash stomped all of the videotapes to pieces?
Destroying evidence goes both ways. It may have hurt the Patriots in Deflategate, costing Brady a four-game suspension and the Patriots a first-round pick and $1 million. But it helped them avoid further accountability in Spygate.
The NFL is obviously playing dumb. When I approached Pash on Wednesday, he had no comment. Two other top executives said they hadn’t even read the report. Goodell said the plan was always for the spot checks in 2015 to serve as a deterrent, nothing more.
“We just make sure there are no violations,” he said. “Thankfully, we did not see any.”
Patriots fans want their draft pick restored and for Brady’s name to be cleared. But the punishments were never about the science. They were about the texts between John Jastremski and Jim McNally, Brady destroying his cellphone and turning down a one-game suspension as long as he admitted guilt, and the Patriots acting obstinate toward league investigators. The Patriots never adequately explained why the two ball boys used the term “The Deflator.”
So Goodell’s response on Wednesday may not have been believable. But Patriots fans need to remember Spygate, and how lucky they were that Pash stomped the evidence.
Other takeaways from Goodell’s State of the NFL news conference on Wednesday:
▪ I believe Goodell is genuinely frustrated with the NFL’s lack of progress in hiring minorities for head coach and executive positions. He and other league executives have tried for several years to strengthen the league’s Rooney Rule and emphasize the need for greater diversity among leadership positions. But Goodell is not the boss — the 32 owners tell him what to do, not the other way around — and he seems increasingly frustrated that only two of nine head coaching vacancies went to minorities this year, giving the NFL five out of 32.
“Last year we were talking about the same subject, which is part of the frustration that we all have,” Goodell said. “I don’t think there’s a subject we’ve discussed more frequently with the ownership the last four to five years.”
Goodell said, “I don’t take anything off the table” with regard to making more changes, whether that’s adding to the Rooney Rule, eliminating the rule, or any other changes suggested by the outside voices Goodell promises to seek out. But the policies won’t mean much until the 32 owners start taking them more seriously.
▪ Brian Flores may have damaged his career by suing the NFL for racial discrimination in its hiring practices, but I get the sense that Goodell may actually help him find a spot in the league again. Goodell doesn’t like being known as the commissioner of the league that blackballed Colin Kaepernick after he took a stand for racial justice, and it sounds like Goodell is trying to make amends with Flores.
The NFL’s initial response to Flores’s lawsuit was that it was “without merit.” But Goodell said Wednesday that that was only in response to Flores’s legal claims, not the allegations that the Rooney Rule creates sham interviews for minorities.
“I put the legal situation aside, and that will be handled by lawyers,” Goodell said. “To me, it’s more important for us to listen to Coach. l understand what he and other coaches are going through. I admire and respect Coach a lot, and so I hope we’ll get a lot of feedback not just from Coach Flores, but everyone in this league.”
▪ Along those lines, the Broncos are now on the market, and it would be surprising based on Wednesday’s comments if they didn’t have a diverse owner, whether it’s a person of color or a female. The NFL has just one minority owner (Shad Khan of the Jaguars) and Goodell highlighted the need for more diversity in the league’s top ranks.
Media mogul Byron Allen, who is Black, has stated his interest in fronting a new ownership group for the Broncos. But Goodell said the league has other minority candidates involved, as well.
“We would love to see a diverse owner of the team,” Goodell said. “We think that would be a really positive step for us … and we will certainly encourage that as the process goes along.”
▪ Goodell also was asked about the tanking allegations from Flores’s lawsuit, in which he claims that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him a $100,000 bonus for every game they lost in 2019 to get the No. 1 draft pick.
Goodell called the allegations “very disturbing,” “very serious matters to us on all levels,” and that if an investigation founds the allegations to be true, “we’ll deal with it very seriously.” Goodell also noted that “I do believe that the clubs have the authority to remove an owner from the league.”
It sounds tough, but it’s just hot air for now. Goodell has proven in its most recent investigation against Dan Snyder and the Washington Commanders that the league is about protecting the owners, not going after them.
▪ The NFL announced that it will commission yet another investigation into Snyder and the Commanders after a former employee went in front of Congress last week and accused Snyder directly of sexual harassment.
Snyder tried to beat the NFL to the punch by announcing on Wednesday that the Commanders will conduct their own investigation. But Goodell quickly put the kibosh on that.
“I do not see any way that a team can do its own investigation of itself,” Goodell said. “That’s something we would do, with an outside expert.”
Remember this quote the next time the NFL commissions an internal investigation over, say, a Ray Rice videotape, a Dolphins bullying incident, or a Patriots ball-deflation scandal.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.