NFL commissioner Roger Goodell just can’t leave well enough alone. Deflategate worked out for both the NFL and the Patriots.
Goodell was able to satisfy the constituency of NFL teams that demanded a pound of Patriot flesh, as Tom Brady was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season. The Patriots were able to get retribution for being railroaded by winning their fifth Super Bowl and crowing about it being “unequivocally the sweetest” at the trophy presentation while rushing past Goodell on the rostrum.
That’s not enough for Goodell. He is now claiming that his relationship with Patriots owner Robert Kraft was never strained by Deflategate, even a smidge. He has to put Deflategate through the spin cycle one more time.
Attending the dedication for the Kraft Family Sports Campus in Israel last week — part of a trip sponsored by Kraft that brought 18 Pro Football Hall of Famers to Israel to promote the game and experience the country — Goodell told the Jerusalem Post, “My friendship with Robert was never strained. We both understand that we have jobs to do. My respect and admiration for him has never been stronger.”
There were some whoppers told during Deflategate on both sides, but the idea that the deflated football inquisition never affected Goodell’s relationship with Kraft is near the top of the list. The notion that the relationship was never strained strains credulity. It’s an alternative fact, as the spin doctors for another of Kraft’s high-powered friends might say. It’s exactly the type of embellishment and airbrushing of the truth that undermines Goodell’s credibility with the football public.
It’s true that the Krafts always held more disdain during the Deflategate saga for league lawyers Jeff Pash and Gregg Levy than Goodell. They respect Goodell’s business acumen and his institutional knowledge of the NFL’s inner workings. You can’t just pluck any corporate CEO out of his or her palatial office and install that person as NFL commissioner. Goodell knows how the league works, and he knows how to make it work for the owners. Kraft is one of the benefactors that put Goodell in power after Paul Tagliabue retired as NFL commissioner. The Kraft family has a personal relationship with Goodell.
But there definitely was some strain involved with the way Deflategate unfolded. There was more than a strain. There was a lengthy cold war between the Patriots and the league, full of leaks, recriminations, and dueling scientific conclusions. The Patriots dedicated an entire website to debunking and undermining the Deflategate discipline that carried Goodell’s imprimatur. Remember the Wells Report in Context?
Kraft had reason to feel Goodell betrayed him after the Patriots owner laid down his arms at the 2015 NFL spring meeting in San Francisco, reluctantly accepting the league’s punishment of his team — a $1 million fine and the docking of a 2016 first-round draft pick and a 2017 fourth-round pick. The hope was that would allow Goodell to lessen Brady’s Draconian punishment upon appeal. Instead, Goodell upheld the ban and further smeared Brady’s reputation by drawing a parallel between his alleged involvement in a football deflation scheme and using performance-enhancing drugs.
That led to Kraft saying, “I was wrong to put my faith in the league.” He said league, but the anger in his voice screamed Goodell. How could Kraft not take Goodell consenting to the league running his organization and his crown jewel of a QB through the mud personally?
How could Goodell not take it personally when Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia stepped off the team plane from Super Bowl LI in a T-shirt that depicted Goodell as a clown?
Like much of the league’s issuances during Deflategate, Goodell’s no-strain claim is revisionist history.
No strain? In January, at Super Bowl LI, Kraft told Gary Myers of the New York Daily News a different story about his relationship with the commish.
“I don’t know if it will ever be the same,” Kraft told the Daily News. “But in order to do what is best for the Patriots franchise long term, I believe it is best to compartmentalize and move on. Like our quarterback, I am trying to remain positive and look to the future rather than dwell on the past. As a native New Englander, that’s easier said than done, but I am doing my best to put the matter behind me.”
Kraft was asked about Deflategate while at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in France last Friday, just three days after the athletic complex dedication in Jerusalem, where Goodell stated there had never been any strain.
Kraft said, “I don’t hold grudges, but I never forget. Sometimes people mess up when they’re doing their jobs, but in most organizations people make bad decisions. I’m about the present and the future.”
Not holding a grudge means you usually harbored one in the first place.
There was no strain when Goodell was either boycotting or banned from Gillette Stadium during Deflategate? Goodell hasn’t been to Gillette Stadium in so long he probably won’t remember to bring a booster seat to sit in the owner’s box.
There was awkwardness at the Super Bowl as Goodell tried to explain why he hadn’t attended a Patriots home game since Jan. 18, 2015, a date that lives in infamy. It was the date that Deflategate was born during the 2014 season’s AFC Championship game between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts.
Goodell did attend a 2015 Patriots-Giants game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., but Foxborough basically became the NFL’s 38th parallel.
Goodell said at the NFL owners’ meetings in March that he would be on hand for the league’s season opener at Gillette Stadium on Sept. 7, a clear sign of Deflategate detente. The Patriots will play the Kansas City Chiefs and unveil their fifth Super Bowl title banner. It’s customary for the commissioner to attend the season kickoff game hosted by the defending Super Bowl champion, but it didn’t happen in 2015 at Gillette.
There has been a formal rapprochement between the league and the Patriots. It’s great that Patriots fans have put away the pitchforks and Goodell can walk through Logan Airport unaccosted. It’s commendable that Goodell went to Israel for a day to support a friend.
Deflategate is dead and buried.
But Goodell can’t rewrite history and say it never strained his relationship with Kraft. That’s one final Deflategate misrepresentation of the facts.