Give Roger Goodell his due. He could have gone to the beach on a beautiful Southern California day rather than sit in the midday sun Wednesday and parry questions he knew were coming from reporters who knew what the answers would be.
But with the job of NFL commissioner comes at least some responsibility. So there was Goodell at his annual Super Bowl news conference trying his best to explain how — outside of racism at the top — a league filled with Black players doesn’t have nearly enough Black coaches and team executives.
That Goodell didn’t come close wasn’t for a lack of opportunity. Not when the first question was about diversity, and so was the last.
In between was largely more of the same, except when a young girl inserted in the media scrum outside SoFi Stadium helped break things up a bit by asking just how great it was that NFL players do charity work in their communities.
“They’re really incredible young men,” Goodell agreed.
On a day when he would have preferred talking about the surprising Cincinnati Bengals or the $5 billion stadium behind him, though, the topic wasn’t Goodell’s to choose. At least it was a familiar one, so familiar that you might wonder if Goodell simply cut and pasted his answers from last year into his talking points this time around.
Most everyone but the young girl came expecting a performance, and that’s what they got.
In short order, Goodell offered a mea culpa on behalf of himself and the league along with a promise to do better in the future. He agreed the NFL hasn’t done a good enough job promoting Blacks into top positions, but suggested it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
The real answers? Well, they’ll just have to wait for another time.
“We know we have to do better,” Goodell said. “We need to set our minds to it and get it done.”
Just how that might happen would be a better question for the NFL owners who do most of the actual hiring and firing. They might also be able to answer why they are not really racists like some contend, based on their hiring patterns.
But, except for Atlanta’s Arthur Blank, the owners weren’t there. They never seem to be unless it’s on the field after a playoff game and someone is handing them a trophy.
Here’s a suggestion: Put all 32 of them in front of the national media and let the questions fly. Ask them individually why they keep passing on promising Black coaches and what, if anything, they plan to do about it in the future.
Then stand back and watch from a distance because it would get real ugly, real quick.
That’s a big part of the reason Goodell is paid so handsomely. He takes the shots for the owners and understands how to answer pointed questions without really answering pointed questions.
Four days before the Super Bowl, the commissioner again more than earned his keep. You could almost hear Jerry Jones leading the cheers from his yacht as Goodell did his best to make sure no one thinks Jones and his fellow NFL owners are racists.
“Racism or any form of discrimination is against our values and really something we won’t tolerate,” Goodell said.
It all sounded good because Goodell almost always sounds good. He knows how to work a room, sticks with his talking points, and never says anything that might accidentally end up in an embarrassing headline somewhere.
Over the years he’s used those skills at his annual presser to defuse controversies ranging from concussions to “Deflategate” to racism in the front office. Through it all he’s remained the perfect front man for owners who have just enough self awareness not to try and answer the questions themselves.
His latest appearance may have been lacking in substance, but no one was expecting a solution to the NFL’s diversity problem to come out of a Q&A with reporters — even at the Super Bowl. And there were a few tidbits of news sprinkled in, including the fact owners can eject one of their own from the league, though Goodell seemed a bit unsure of the actual process.
That came up because one of the allegations former Miami coach Brian Flores made in his recent lawsuit alleging hiring discrimination was that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross offered him $100,000 for each loss to try and get the first draft pick his first year on the job.
That means game fixing, perhaps the cardinal sin in any sport. Goodell called the allegation disturbing but offered few details about how the NFL would go about investigating it.
No worries. Tune in at the same time next year before the Super Bowl in Phoenix.
Maybe Goodell will have more to report then.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg