Roger Goodell has reigned as NFL commissioner with an iron fist.
But his recent delegation of appeals in the Bounty Gate controversy to his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, diminishes his credibility on the issue significantly.
The strange part is that Goodell originally took such a hardline stance by handing out severe suspensions to players allegedly involved in the repulsive on-field conduct.
When players, accused and convicted in the court of public opinion of such transgressions, wanted to see the evidence, it was withheld.
Now, Goodell is backing away form the situation entirely, as players whose reputations are damaged continue to demand answers.
It may be the proper move for Paul Tagliabue to intervene—the players are probably loving it—but it makes Goodell look rather hypocritical.
In a time of unprecedented knowledge about the dangers of the game and player safety, Goodell has demonized these Saints players and coaches. Very little evidence, outside of the creepy Gregg Williams audio, has been made publicly available.
For this reason, among others, players have become increasingly vocal about the damage done to their reputations, which could arguably be considered slander.
The most notable player to recently speak out, though, claims that he had no involvement with the situation in the first place. Goodell asserted that free-agent defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy blew the whistle to a degree on the Bounty Gate situation.
The story was that Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove informed Kennedy prior to the 2009 NFC Championship game of the $10,000 bounty placed on then-Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre.
Kennedy took to the media himself in a statement released through the NFLPA. His letter was a stern, bold denial of any and all information disseminated in recent weeks by the NFL. As documented by CBSSports.com blogger Josh Katzowitz, Kennedy made a huge dent in Goodell's side of the story from the very beginning of his statement:
The Commissioner of the NFL recently distributed a memo to all 32 NFL teams regarding the alleged Saints bounty program that contained blatant lies about me, thereby adding me to the list of men whose reputations and character have been irreparably damaged by the shoddy, careless, shameful so-called investigation behind this sham proceeding.
In light of the suspension to current Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, the Akron Beacon-Journal plugged a recent AP report that notes multiple incentive-based programs based on big hits that have surfaced in light of Bounty Gate. The most notable of these was the 1996 program led by Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers, which was called "smash-for-cash."
Now that this controversy has reached the U.S. District court, the NFLPA has questioned Fujita's suspension in that context, and presented the aforementioned program as evidence of inconsistency with the punishments.
One of the unfortunate circumstances of this scandal is that Goodell has autonomous, absolute power to deal with any conduct detrimental to football. Thus, if the league feels the evidence against players is overwhelming, Goodell's actions are justified, and evidence can be withheld.
This silly lack of transparency is how cases about professional football players end up costing taxpayer dollars in U.S. District Court.
But violating players' basic rights and access to the information that defames their character is irresponsible by Goodell, and justifies the legal action.
There are much more pressing issues in the country and world, and the NFL must figure out a way to deal with this internally, moving forward.
One way to enact change is to not give Goodell so much individual power in situations of player discipline. His delegation of responsibility to Tagliabue in this situation shows he is not fit to handle it when his judgment is truly called into question.
It's easy to see why players feel Goodell holds a bias against them. Imagine the PR nightmare for the league if they wound up being wrong about the players' involvement in Bounty Gate.
Telling the truth—if the evidence were truly damning—might also hurt the league from a PR standpoint.
But the truth hurts sometimes. It's time for Goodell to come clean with whatever the facts are, good or bad, for him or for the players, before his credibility is further shaken.
When in doubt, and in these ominous circumstances for both sides, honesty is the best policy.