The problem isn’t that the people running the NFL are stupid. They think everyone else is stupid. That’s the problem.
Latest evidence submitted to the already existing mountain of proof that the NFL thinks we’re all a bunch of drooling dolts? Deciding to give Giants kicker Josh Brown a one-game suspension for violating the domestic-violence policy instead of the mandated six.
Did they not think people would find out Brown’s suspension stemmed from allegedly putting hands on his ex-wife? And that questions would naturally arise as to why Brown’s suspension was 85 percent shorter than what the NFL JUST mandated? And that, given the NFL’s brutally inept investigations and jaundiced rulings in Bountygate, Deflategate and the Ray Rice case meant that “Hey, take our word for it, we know what we’re doing here . . . ” wasn’t sufficient.
Because here the NFL is, softshoeing around the topic, suggesting without stating that Brown’s ex-wife might be given to exaggeration and expecting that to be enough. It isn’t.
We discussed this Tuesday afternoon on WEEI and that day I said about 44 times that the NFL owes transparency to the American public that misplaced its trust in it being able to do the right thing.
Hell, if a member Roger Goodell’s newly minted Star Chamber was saying just a year ago that he was “wrong to put his faith in the league” why should we feel okay accepting “Because we said so . . . ” as a reasonable explanation?
My friend Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk wrote on this topic as well on Friday:
But for the bounty scandal and the Ray Rice second suspension and #Deflategate, maybe folks would be inclined to give the league the benefit of the doubt and accept the notion that full transparency would undermine privacy interests of the player involved and his family. Given those past incidents and in consideration of the current circumstances, it’s difficult to not wonder whether the facts as collected by the team and the league fairly led to a decision to suspend Brown for only one game, or whether that’s simply the outcome the league and the team wanted, regardless of whether the facts (including a claim by Brown’s ex-wife of 20 prior incidents of violence) suggest that the punishment should have been more severe.
Would I like to be able to accept the NFL at face value on this issue and others like it? Absolutely. It’s not my fault that I can’t, and it’s the responsibility of the NFL and the Giants to properly balance player privacy interests against loudly-stated proclamations from 2014 about no excuses and no tolerance for domestic violence in a way that doesn’t require the benefit of the doubt or any other courtesy to be extended by a public whose confidence in the game is supposedly of paramount importance to the league.
If only the league would hire a Senior Vice President of Investigations to ensure that the league neither bungles its detective work nor loses the public and player’s faith that it’s not bending the rules.
SURPRISE! It did hire one. And she’s a yooooooge! Giants fan.
Here’s a couple of snippets from the fawning New York Times piece written in February about Lisa Friel:
“The stated option chosen by the N.F.L., … is no longer to defer to law enforcement but rather to conduct professional internal investigations that are not designed to please the head office, yet dispel the impression that its biggest stars seem above reproach.
"This option largely comes down to a woman named Lisa Friel, whose league office is adorned with portraits of giants: the former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, the current Giants quarterback Eli Manning — and, most tellingly, Robert M. Morgenthau, the august former Manhattan district attorney.
"Friel spent nearly three decades working for Morgenthau, serving for many years as the chief of his Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit. She said he had instilled in her a prosecutorial code of conduct: 'You investigate every allegation that comes in; you investigate it objectively, sensitively and thoroughly. And when you get to the end of your investigation, you make an objective decision about what happened. That’s your job.'
"Friel said she was applying those principles as the N.F.L.’s senior vice president for investigations — a position created in the wake of the league’s mishandling of the case of Ray Rice, then a Baltimore Ravens running back, whose chilling assault of his future wife was captured on surveillance video and became, among other things, a public relations disaster for the N.F.L.
"Friel is responsible for investigating alleged violations of the league’s personal conduct code: domestic violence, sexual assault, animal cruelty, blackmail, extortion, racketeering, disorderly conduct, you name it. She emphasizes that the adjudications or dismissals of court cases do not dictate the outcomes of her own inquiries, which some officials in the players’ union find at times to be overzealous."
So within a year of the NFL hiring someone because the Ray Rice investigation yielded an embarrassingly, distressingly insufficient suspension, the NFL has handed down what seems to be an insufficient suspension.
In an investigation ostensibly headed by Friel. Of a player who plays for the team she adores.
"Her job, which is intended to establish much-needed consistency in the league’s handling of misconduct cases, is at the center of a decidedly alpha-male environment. But Friel, 58, sees it as a twinning of passions, 'a perfect fit.'
"To begin with, she is a devout Giants fan, a season-ticket holder whose basement in her Brooklyn apartment is, as The Daily Beast once reported, a blue-and-red shrine to the Jints. Among her earliest memories of growing up in New Jersey is watching a Giants game on a black-and-white television and asking her father: 'Who are we rooting for, Daddy? The ones in the black uniforms or the ones in the white uniforms?' "
Now, circling back to my original point. I don’t think Lisa Friel -- accomplished prosecutor -- is going to go easy on a wife-beater in her new job just because she’s sat in the owner’s box a few times and had a crush on Phil Simms.
Nor do I think John Mara -- another member of Goodell’s Star Chamber and a particularly beloved owner on 345 Park Avenue -- is going to want Brown on his team if his actions were truly as revolting as they seem without context.
But that neither Friel nor Mara are made to uncomfortably stand and explain the is a kind of favoritism. And it’s the type of wrong-headed PR move that only an arrogant monolith like the NFL would embrace.
Friel addressed in the Times story her vigilance at being used by the NFL as a puppet.
"But Friel also rejects any story line that she is a co-opted cog in a public relations effort to stem an image crisis.
" 'I am a professional at what I do, and I take what I do so seriously, and the repercussions are so important, that I would never not do the right thing,' she said.
"She added, 'If I felt the pressure to do something other than that, I would go look for another job.' "
The only thing the NFL’s offered as a reason for Brown’s light suspension is that neither his ex-wife nor authorities cooperated in the investigation the NFL tried to conduct. Whether that’s the whole truth or not, folding their tent and not offering an explanation for it flies in the face of this statement made by Friel six months ago talking to the Times.
"The only issue (she declined even to call it a frustration) is the expectation by some of instant investigative findings following an allegation. Friel said that she was no longer in law enforcement, had no subpoena power and must pursue these cases more like a reporter or private investigator.
"This means asking the local police department for incident reports, transcripts of 911 calls, photographs, interviews with responding officers. This means wading through redacted documents, being rebuffed by witnesses and alleged victims, waiting for the processing of freedom-of-information requests. This means hitting walls, putting together a to-do list, then waiting for the case to be adjudicated, dismissed or closed.
"Then, Friel said, 'we’re going to circle back and go through the whole list again.' "
The NFL had two choices when it how to package Brown’s suspension. Either leave people to presume it was trying to bury an infraction and save face for the beloved owner or a precious New York city franchise. Or demonstrate that there really was a new way of doing business by being painfully transparent.
It chose the former. And they now deal with the fallout of mistrust. Again. Still.