Lupica: Roger Goodell’s mea culpa

Roger Goodell admits he made a mistake with Ray Rice's punishment, but the damage to himself and the NFL has already been done. Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images Roger Goodell admits he made a mistake with Ray Rice’s punishment, but the damage to himself and the NFL has already been done. 

Roger Goodell suspended Ray Rice, seen dragging the unconscious woman who is now his wife out of an elevator in Atlantic City last February, for two games. It is not the first mistake Goodell has made as NFL commissioner, it was just the biggest. He got tagged for it, but good, here and everywhere else.

But Goodell comes back from that this week, even before the official NFL season begins, and even though there were those who wanted him impeached for not hitting Rice nearly hard enough. But that’s the way we often roll in this business when somebody doesn’t react the way we want them to in the moment. We overreact. So it goes.

So suddenly Goodell was treated like an accomplice to Rice, or at least an accessory after the fact. Only now he does something usually treated like some sort of crime in this business. He stands up and admits he made a mistake.

Again: Goodell doesn’t undo the damage he did to himself and his brand with his original and weak sanctions for Rice. And then came the commissioner’s rather defensive response in Canton on Hall of Fame weekend to the original waves – and waves, and waves – of criticism, not just in newspapers or on the radio or on television, but from women who had once been victims of domestic violence themselves, and advocacy groups; and from smart people who had merely watched the video of Rice and his now-wife again and again.

It will always remain an amazingly dumb, tone-deaf decision by a smart guy, one who has done far more good for his sport than bad. About this there was no debate, except in quarters where everything must be debated, all day and every day, and the louder the better.

So Goodell sent out a letter this past week to his owners, the ones who elected him, and here was the most important part, before he got to the part about the next player guilty of domestic violence getting a six-game suspension, then getting kicked right out of the league for a second offense:

“At times, however, and despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals. We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence. We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place. My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

It didn’t take Goodell a year to come to his senses. It took him a month. Even now, that isn’t enough, oh no, not only should Goodell have changed the rules, he should have changed them sooner. Come on. Goodell doesn’t get the game ball for doing the right thing after doing the wrong thing, that would be like celebrating old political candidates for being against the war in Iraq after they were for it. He still fixed this before the first ball is snapped for real, not in one of his rip-off preseason games.

Certainly Goodell’s decision doesn’t take Ray Rice off the field until Nov. 1. And Rice’s appearance on the field, and through the season, will be a constant reminder of that decision. This isn’t the late, and great, Pete Rozelle making the decision once to play games on the Sunday after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It will still be a permanent part of Goodell’s record.

But so is the fact that he admitted to making a mistake like this in front of his sport, and in front of the country. It is a good thing. Everybody should try it once in a while, especially in the world of nonstop news cycles where we’re hardly ever wrong, but never ever uncertain.

We prosecuted Adam Silver after the fact for not acting sooner on Donald Sterling, and you had to wonder what was stopping the media from shining a bigger light on Sterling’s racism over the past 30 years. Bud Selig is still prosecuted for baseball’s steroid past, as if everybody in the media was organizing marches on MLB’s Park Avenue offices in the late ’90s. And Alex Rodriguez, of course, was a victim of a witch hunt until he wasn’t. So it goes.

What we & tennis owe to Bud Collins

The voice on the telephone was the most important voice in tennis for more than 50 years in this country, sounding as full of life and full of passion about the sport as it ever was.

“Look out for the women this year,” Bud Collins was saying, and this was before a 15-year old girl named CiCi Bellis became the newest American girl the very next day. “They’re going to be the story the first week.”

He was right, of course, even watching the Open on television instead of talking about it on television. He is missing this U.S. Open, because he has never come all the way back from a fall he took a few years ago at the Open that has produced a long and hard season of pain for a man now in his 80s. But even early this week, still underdoing physical therapy because of lingering pain and weakness in one of his legs, he was talking about maybe showing up at the Open’s second week. The Open should be so lucky.

If he doesn’t, there should still be a way to acknowledge as immense and lasting a contribution to one sport in this country as one writer or broadcaster has ever made. Bud Collins did as much to grow the sport as anyone ever possibly could without a racket in his hand, even though he was good enough with one of those to once win a national title in mixed doubles.

He is already in the Hall of Fame. And there has been the suggestion that the media center at the stadium named after Arthur Ashe, Bud’s dear old friend, should be named after him. It wouldn’t be nearly enough. If you are looking for a comparison, just to understand the sweep of his career in tennis, Bud has been as important to the sport as Vin Scully has been to the Dodgers. Mr. Scully has just been blessed, at least lately, with much better health.

Bud was first sent over to Longwood Cricket Club around 60 years ago to cover the U.S. Doubles. By the 60s, he was doing celebrated television commentary on public television in Boston, and then he was on CBS and NBC finally, your host and the best company in the world for tennis matches for nearly 40 years. He also kept writing about the sport as well as anyone ever had or ever will.

“It’s been a pretty good run,” he said the other day.

My life in newspapers wouldn’t have been nearly the same if I hadn’t met him when I was working the copy desk at the Boston Globe when I was in college. But it is tennis that would never have been the same without Bud’s passion, and wit, and pure love of the game.

Before the tournament is over, there should be a way to honor not only his absence from this Open, but his essential presence in the sport for over 60 years. There has never been anybody like him. Somebody should stand on the court in a stadium named for Ashe, at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and say that.

Big Blue problems & reminiscing about Venus…

-Let’s just put it this way: If it is going to take all year for the Giants to figure out their new offense, it’s probably the wrong offense.

“I Am Pilgrim,” by Terry Hayes, is one of the best thrillers I have read in a real long time.

And by the way?

There is a wonderful new collection of four Elmore Leonard novels from the Library of America that you are going to want to buy, and read, just to be reminded why he was one of the great American writers.

Wait, I thought it was the previous regime’s NYPD that was dividing the city.

I didn’t think Tiger Woods was going to wake up and fire Sean Foley until he got his first AARP card.

My friend Mr. Imus has had a lot of good lines over the years, but the best may have been this one:

Everybody thinks it’s funny until it’s about them.

-For an hour or so on Friday afternoon, before she just ran out of energy and out of game, Venus Williams reminded you why she first electrified the Open as a kid, and why she was once tough enough and talented enough to become one of the handful of American women ever to win Wimbledon five times.

Somebody will have to explain to me why the new playoff system in college football isn’t going to reward teams from big conferences playing easy schedules.

I turned on the television set the other night for the Roger Federer vs. Sam Groth match and thought Federer was playing Ivan Drago.

The Boston Red Sox have just started their 2015 season early, right?

All those moves Billy Beane made near the trade deadline – are they still making the A’s a lock to make the World Series?

-Johnny Manziel didn’t even make it through his first preseason in the pros without having to wonder where all his friends had gone?

Has Revis tried to renegotiate his contract with the Patriots yet?

After what the Washington Washingtons had to cough up to sign Robert Griffin III, he better show up this season.

I was going to say that I’m not emotionally ready for the start of the college football season, and then I watched Texas A&M chopping it up that way against the old ball coach and you know what?

I kind of am.

-There are so many things to admire about Maria Sharapova’s tennis game, but none of them includes this woman shrieking every time she hits the ball as if she is being water-boarded.

You wonder how Martina and Chris managed to win 36 singles majors between them without sounding like some kind of Swedish movie.


The Mike Lupica Show can be heard Monday through Friday at noon and Sunday at 9 a.m. on ESPN 98.7.

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