The best moment of the upcoming Super Bowl is already scheduled for your viewing and laughing pleasure.
Friday. The Commissioner’s State of the League speech. Do. Not. Miss. It.
This has been Roger Goodell’s annus horribilis, the year in which he could not turn his head without seeing another brick aimed right at his skull, and intriguingly, he threw many of those bricks himself.
And January 30 is the day when he has to try to explain them (or, far more likely, not to explain them at all) to a nation that believes not a single word that spills forth from his piehole. What has traditionally been a triumphant oration of the majesty of the league now will come with a sardonic laugh track, open mockery and, for the truly resourceful, vegetables ready for hurling lectern-ward.
How can you not watch this with relish?
Unlike the actual State of the Union address, Goodell will not be able to talk smack at the audience the way Barack Obama slapped down the Republicans in the chamber. He can’t be the regal and dismissive braggart. He also can’t be the humble supplicant. The game he is paid more than $40 million to front for is both more popular and more contemptible than ever (way to work those air pumps, Bill Belichick). The business has never been better and held in lower esteem. Its pretense about holding the moral and entertainment high ground has been lost to FIFA, the IOC and Walter White. When it wraps itself around the American flag, the rest of the world sighs with relief.
And this day is the day when he earns every one of that $40M.
Of course, he will be well prepared. He will do his best to select questioners who want to ask about teams in foreign lands like England and Canada and Los Angeles, and how much money Super Bowl 50 will bring to (and suck out of) the Bay Area, and how much closer the league is to reaching his $25B revenue mark, and how much he has learned for his and society’s betterment from trying to game-fix the Ray Rice story.
And he will use military men and women and former players and local dignitaries as props to maintain his status as a moving target, just as Paul Tagliabue and Pete Rozelle did before him. He will cling tight to the scripted speech, and he will do his best not deviate from it.
But he will change no minds, not about him or the company he represents so shambolically. He can bring down the house with the best speech he has ever driven, and in the end he will still end up with his pants at his ankles, with only clown shoes visible below his cuffs and a bicycle horn in his hands.
Now THAT’s entertainment.
And he has all of this coming, and then some. He has been on the job for the undoings of the reputations of owners Steve Bisciotti, Jimmy Haslam, Bob Kraft, Danny Snyder and Jimmy Irsay. He has been neck-deep in the mess as first Rice and then Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald and Adrian Peterson damaged the reputations of the players he so wishes to ennoble in non-CBA-negotiation settings. He has been on the flat-earth side of concussion and domestic violence studies while at the same time being on the Communist side of defending traditional hard-hitting, brain-denting football. He has been reduced to cardboard villain by longtime NFL writers and broadcasters after beginning his term as someone vouched for enthusiastically as the modern media-savvy commissioner. Some of those media members were used and then tossed into the thresher in the Rice mess when the stories given them by league “sources” turned out to be utter arglebargle.
He has lost a lot of his owners, who are willing to embarrass their cities and fans to cling to racist nicknames or new cities. He has lost a lot of his blind media acolytes. He still has the broadcast executives who negotiate the regularly scheduled financial surrenders, and they matter more than the second group, but not quite as much as the first. He is dancing on his hands and tongue on the third rail of American imagemaking, and this speech will tell us how he wishes to be remembered from here on in.
Does he want to acknowledge the errors of his ways, and likely be fired? No. Does he want to decline all responsibility for the actions of his better and underlings? No. Does he even want to be at the lectern at all? Hell to the no.
But be there he will, and he will try to dance the dance anyway because otherwise he isn’t earning his check as the owners’ designated abuse magnet. He will fail because he has overspent all his good will, and his only real truthful argument in the face of all this is, “Screw it. My bosses are getting paid, I’m getting paid, and all of you are glad to do the paying. I win. Bite me. Adolfo, my car!”
Goodell doesn’t seem to have the stomach to be remembered as the first commissioner to flip off the nation on global television. He really would like to win this somehow. He really would like to weave a tale that will bring people back into the flock and forget all the reasons why football has become America’s heroin – brightly colored, highly addictive, and indisputably dangerous.
But it will be worth watching him try. Or, more likely, not try. Maybe he’ll go full cabaret and wear fake buck teeth and funny Lite-Brite underwear and roll-up shirt front when he drops trou at the end of the speech, and rides offstage on a Shetland pony.
We can only hope. It is, after all, an hour out of our Friday morning. We’d really rather laugh to forget than remember and feel kind of creepy for having watched at all.