Oxymorons in ActionThe "independent investigation" is the next to last refuge of scoundrels. Naturally the National Football League has just commissioned one.
I put the phrase independent investigation in quotes because it always should be. An investigation which the organization being investigated pays for by definition cannot be independent. It's what organizations turn to when neck deep in scandal with no idea of how to get to dry ground. Such investigations are always and forever to serve purposes other than the discovery of facts.
In the NFL's case, it's Plan B, since the stonewall coverup Plan A died a grisly death yesterday at the hands of the Associated Press. It reported that an unnamed official in New Jersey law enforcement said he had too sent the video tape of Ray Rice slugging Janay Palmer to league headquarters in April, a claim thoughtfully documented by said official replaying an NFL voice mail acknowledging its receipt. This leaves Commissioner Roger Goodell, who earlier denied such a thing on national television in a CBS News interview, with one of two possible identities in the case -- Big Fat Liar or Worse and Dimmer Manager Than the Pointy-Haired Boss in Dilbert.
The NFL still denies all, but sensing the ambivalence of that stance, hired former FBI director Robert Mueller to lead the investigation that'll find the truth once and for all. Well, maybe not exactly to lead. The manhunt will be "overseen" by NFL owners John Mara of the Giants and Art Rooney of the Steelers. BTW, the Washington law firm where Mueller's a partner numbers Redskins owner Dan Snyder as a client. Sure sounds like Mueller will be independent and free of conflicts of interest to me!
The purpose of this "investigation" is so obvious even Phil Simms ought to get it, although for business purposes he won't. The NFL is seeking to buy what investigations take -- time. It needs time for the natural desire of football fans to follow the sport of football to submerge any revulsion at the moral void at the center of pro football governance, time for the next big media freakout to come along (videos of bombed Syrians would be most welcome at 345 Park Avenue), and most of all, time for the next knucklehead player to strike a woman so Goodell can provide lynch law. Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy are likely to be home for Sunday chores this fall.
All this to protect Goodell? That's the wonder of the story, just as Rice's violence is the horror. Thirty-two unbelievably wealthy and successful businessmen are going out on a limb for a guy who's proven to be a distinct business liability. Since Pete Rozelle left, the owners have gradually stripped the commissioner's office of authority. Player discipline and marketing were what Goodell had left in the way of powers. He's just blown both to an extent that astonishes me. I don't think even Sepp Blatter of FIFA could've done a worse job.
The owners may want to stand by Goodell now, but this insane tolerance must have limits. It is the nature of scandals that the bigger they get, the bigger the scapegoat an organization needs to douse its flames. The world, not to mention TMZ, is not going to stand by and wait for Mueller.
Somewhere in the Chicago offices of Wilson Sporting Goods this morning, there's an executive pondering whether it might be wise to put a stop order on the machine that brands Goodell's signature into NFL footballs. Just in case.