More than anything, Roger Goodell fancies himself a disciplinarian. He’s personally taken the lead in prosecuting Ballghazi, gone out of his way to make an example of marijuana users, and gone all-out at Marshawn Lynch for the crime of having fun. Of course, Goodell also helped the Patriots cover up a huge cheating scandal, won’t answer questions about concussions, and probably lied about the Ray Rice tape. The scale with which he metes out discipline is uneven and arbitrary, which throws his absolute power into a confusing contrast. Which is why he should have to defend his role publicly, and accept James Harrison’s offer to interview him, live and on television.
This week, the NFL threatened suspensions against Harrison and the other three players named in the Al Jazeera doping report if they did not submit to interviews. Harrison, Clay Matthews, and Julius Peppers agreed to the interviews, but Harrison was not happy about it. After calling Goodell a “crook,” Harrison challenged him to conduct the interview himself. Here’s what he said after the Steelers’ preseason game against the Eagles:
Whatever evidence they might have or reasoning for questioning for me is out of my control, I don’t know. I wouldn’t have a problem with it being filmed live. I’ve been prosecuted and persecuted publicly in the media by them for something I didn’t do, so I don’t see why we couldn’t have the media there and do a live interview. They can ask the questions and I can answer them, and y’all can see whatever evidence it is they say they got.
Goodell would, of course, never agree to this. His disciplinary echo chamber doesn’t have any checks and balances, so nothing is stopping him from forcing Harrison to do his bidding. Harrison will talk to NFL Network, or ESPN, or some other network, he’ll proclaim his innocence, Goodell will sternly smile, vaguely support Harrison, and try to come off as the kindly disciplinarian father.
But Harrison’s demand is a legitimate one. If these interviews are a legitimate quest for the truth and not just a way for Goodell to remind his players who has all the power, then there’s not harm in having them in public. Goodell has never been taken less seriously than he is right now, thanks to his mangling of Ballghazi, and he could recover some much-needed credibility by honestly engaging Harrison. Harrison could ask Goodell about why he suspends players who smoke weed for twice as long as players who beat up their wives. If Goodell wanted to bring up Harrison’s hardline anti-participation trophy stance or old domestic violence accusation, more power to him.