Roger Goodell becoming 'concussion commissioner'

Roger Goodell becoming 'concussion commissioner'
February 1, 2013, 1:00 pm
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In trying to stress his desire for increased mandated health and safety measures, Roger Goodell has become an ouroboros, a serpent eating its own tail for the fun and profit of the industry. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

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NEW ORLEANS -- Roger Goodell’s State Of The Stuff I Run address was largely a more complete but still largely robotic primer on health and safety in the National Football League Friday.

Or, as it will come to be known in the years to come, The Oxymoron Speech.

The commissioner took 22 questions, of which 12 had to do with either player health, player safety, player discipline for violating standards of health and safety, or fighting with the players union over jurisdiction in matters of discipline about, yes, health and safety.

You know, two things the NFL really isn’t, and can’t be, very good at.

Why, if you thought hard enough about it after watching his presser, you might think he was describing an enterprise in which violent men play a violent game for an audience that enjoys stylized violence with shiny colors and tight outfits against a backdrop of potential fan violence.

Goodell did his usual hour of what he daintily described at one point as “reflecting positively on The Shield.” It could not be described accurately as a peek inside the faceplate, as he increasingly eases toward his brethren in basketball and hockey for general imperiousness in public settings. Then again, his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, largely did his annual press conference cabaret with the whimsical tinge of a coroner, so Goodell has that going for him.

But while Tags did business reports that made his audience pray for the sweet release of temporary deafness, Goodell’s adminsration is coming to be defined by the dichotomy of prettying up a game that was designed to be its very antithesis. In short, he is trying to hide what he is selling.

Oh, there were the usual boilerplate frivolities, like:

•       Whether he feels the hate of New Orleans.
•       How every team followed the Rooney Rule in minority hiring this offseason while also concluding, “We didn’t have the outcomes we wanted.”
•       Why can’t Mexico City have another exhibition game.
•       When can London get a franchise.
•       How the nickname “Redskins” can be both offensive and yet popular.

At the Super Bowl, though, there is eventually a unifying theme, and while it could have been Tim Brown’s claim that the 2003 Super Bowl was fixed by Bill Callahan, or Chris Culliver’s anti-gay remarks, or Ray Lewis’ role in the new deer antler scandal, it ended up being about brains, and why they should avoid or limit exposure to the nation’s pre-eminent game.

The NFL, in its perpetual attempt to be all things to all people with money, gathers all manner of industry, marketing and pressure groups to its biggest show. This year, it was health, and safety, and essentially how the game cares and doesn’t care and is in fact spectacularly detrimental to both concepts.

And there stood Roger Goodell, slowly but surely becoming The Concussion Commissioner. Now there’s a cheery legacy under construction.

Example: A half-hour after Goodell’s show-and-don’t-really-tell, the Sports Legacy Institute was trying to create a movement to ban offseason contact practices in high schools because of the growing evidence of brain injury caused by football in younger and younger players, going down to youth football.

One of the former players on stage helping support the effort was the one-time Patriot and Eagle fullback Kevin Turner, who now has ALS that he believes may be linked to CTE, the brain injury caused by repetitive trauma.

And then outside, Mitch Ross, the new spokesman for another new football buzzword, deer antler spray, described the same Kevin Turner as his “Patient Zero” in 2000.

Thus, all things are linked in one mighty mass of dirty pleasures and contradictions that Steve Young has called “a gentleman’s game.” In trying to stress his desire for increased mandated health and safety measures, Goodell has become an ouroboros, a serpent eating its own tail for the fun and profit of the industry.

And he must have left the podium understanding at least the rudiments of his new truth: that he will be advocating, apologizing and aggregating for both sides of a business too big to fail, and yet not so big enough that it can’t destroy itself.

Oh, but Beyonce sounded good, and the food was fabulous. Another successful Super Bowl all around.