Unsurprisingly, former FBI director Robert Mueller's report has absolved Roger Goodell and the NFL of any major wrongdoing or misdirection in their handling of the Ray Rice case. We always knew that was going to happen. What's really disturbing about the report is how perfectly its conclusions align with and serve the NFL's interests.
At first glance, it appears that the report lays out some harsh criticism of the NFL, mainly that the league completely fell down on the job while trying to investigate the Rice incident. From the report:
Had the League taken additional investigative steps, it may have obtained more information about what occurred inside the elevator, including possibly securing the in-elevator video. The League could have, but did not, do the following:
- League investigators did not contact any of the police officers involved in
- responding to or investigating the incident for information about the incident.
- League investigators did not contact the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office.
- League investigators did not contact the Revel in an effort to obtain a copy of or
- at least see the video of what had occurred in the elevator or to obtain a copy of any internal Revel reports.
- After the initial contacts with Sanders in February, League investigators did not
- periodically check with the Ravens to determine whether the team was in possession of additional information. The Ravens, in turn, did not share information that the team learned with the League.
- League investigators did not contact Rice's lawyer for information either while
- the criminal case was active or after the PTI disposition on May 20 in anticipation of the June 16 meeting, nor did League investigators contact Rice himself at any point in time.
- League investigators did not go back to ACPD or the Revel after May 20, when
- Rice's PTI application was approved, to see if more information might then be available to the League.
So, a sports league didn't do a very good job of properly investigating and adjudicating a crime. One reasonable conclusion to draw from this failure might be that sports leagues shouldn't be in the business of operating disciplinary arms that exist outside of the criminal justice system and dole out punishments that are based on an arbitrary personal conduct policy and the whims of a commissioner. This, of course, is not the conclusion that Mueller reached:
Our findings demonstrate the weaknesses inherent in the League's longstanding practice of deferring to the criminal justice system with respect to the investigation of facts and the imposition of discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy. Discipline should be imposed on the basis of the specific nature of the player's conduct, not solely or necessarily on the disposition of a criminal case. The League has begun to address this fundamental issue in its revised Personal Conduct Policy, announced on December 10, 2014.
The idea here is that NFL screwed this all up not because it has too much power that it is ill-equipped to wield, but because it doesn't have enough of it. A sports league deferring to the wisdom of the criminal justice system is being described as a weakness. This is insane.
Even worse, all this conclusion does is serve the interests of Roger Goodell. Ever since fucking up the Ray Rice situation from end to end, he's been preaching that the way to prevent something like this from happening again is to give his league more power when it comes to punishing players.
Mueller's report does nothing but absolve Goodell of any serious wrongdoing while also posing a ringing endorsement of his future plans for the league in the guise of criticism. It endorses the idea that Goodell is in the clear so long as he can only be demonstrated to have acted with idiocy and incompetence, rather than as part of a cover-up. It concludes that the authors of a fiasco need to be given more authority and more discretion to prevent it from happening again. All of this is depressing, as if the fact that all the right-thinking people are going to treat it as holy writ.
The significance of this report is that it marks the final end of a process by which Goodell has managed, with the help of a football press that loves nothing more than a man who loves to exercise authority, to use his own demonstrated ineptitude to enhance his own brand. The more obviously he and the institution he represents fail, the more powerful they become—and so now they're more powerful than ever.