The Seahawks have arrived in Arizona, and while many players have declared that it's time to start focusing on football(big game next Sunday, you know) instead of the deflation scandal, Richard Sherman didn't hesitate to fire the first shots and predict the Patriots will get off scot-free because owner Robert Kraft is buddy-buddy with Roger Goodell.
At his media session in Phoenix, Sherman was asked about the perception that the Patriots skirt—or possibly break—the rules more than do other teams. Sherman replied:
"I think perception is reality. It is what it is. Their resume speaks for itself. You talk about getting close to the line, this and that. I don't really have a comment about that. Their past is what their past is. Their present is what their present is.
"Will they be punished? Probably not. Not as long Robert Kraft and Roger Goodell are still taking pictures at their respective homes. He [Goodell] was just at Kraft's house last week before the AFC Championship. Talk about conflict of interest. As long as that happens, it won't affect them at all."
Sherman isn't joking! The commissioner was at a party at Kraft's house the night before the AFC championship:
There's nothing wrong with two friends and co-workers hanging out, one of them having spilled a drink all over his lap. There probably is something wrong—even if it's merely perception—with one of them trying to claim absolute authority over the decisions to discipline and dock the other's employees and assets.
And Goodell and Kraft are remarkably close. A profile of Goodell in this week's GQ reveals how it was Kraft that honed the NFL's media strategy at the height of the Ray Rice controversy, and brokered the agreement to get the commissioner on the air:
Kraft had a request, as he often did. According to a person with knowledge of their conversation, he wanted Goodell to get on-camera with CBS News anchor Norah O'Donnell and deal with the controversy before it spun even further out of control. Earlier that day, Kraft had appeared on CBS This Morning and was questioned by Charlie Rose about Goodell's handling of the Rice situation. It didn't go well. "He had no knowledge of this video," Kraft told Rose stiffly. "Anyone who's second-guessing that doesn't know him." After the interview, the source says, Kraft conferred with his friend Leslie Moonves, the CEO of CBS. The two men spoke often, but this call was urgent: In roughly forty-eight hours, CBS was set to air the first of eight Thursday Night Football games (for which the network reportedly paid about $250 million), and the game featured the Ravens. Kraft and Moonves agreed that Goodell needed to appear on CBS News and answer questions. The questioner, Moonves added, should be a woman.
Goodell rarely went out front to face tough interviews. But Kraft was one of Goodell's closest confidants among the NFL's thirty-two owners, and his fiercest advocate and defender. As a member of the league's compensation committee, Kraft has vigorously defended Goodell's eye-popping $44 million pay package, and in the wake of the TMZ leak, he personally called owners and lobbied them to issue statements backing the commissioner, according to a senior league source. So large is Kraft's sway with Goodell that one veteran NFL executive likes to call him "the assistant commissioner."
Even if their suspicions are misguided, players are very much aware of the realpolitik power structures in their workplace. And Sherman, who swears he's not worried about what the Patriots do or don't do to their footballs (because he can't control anything), is also aware that every minute spent talking about the Patriots is a minute the Seahawks don't have to answer pointless questions about themselves. Last week, he couldn't resist a jab at the man handling those footballs.
"I think people get a skewed view of Tom Brady, that he's just a clean-cut, does-everything-right (guy), and never says a bad word to anyone, and we know him to be otherwise," Sherman said.
It should be a great game, sure, but for the first time in a long time, the entire week is shaping up to be a fun one.