Roger Goodell Won’t Apologize For Bad Call And That’s Bad Business
As a father, I’ve made it a point to teach my kids good manners. To help them, we’ve ingrained three simple phrases into their brains:
Simple words, but when applied authentically, they go a long way to keep a relationship healthy. I use them liberally with my family, with my team, and with pretty much everyone I meet. I want people to know that I value and respect them.
And because I believe so strongly in those simple expressions of respect, I’d love to ask the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, an honest question:
What the hell is wrong with you, man?
It’s been a little over a week since the NFC Championship game ended with one of the worst referee jobs in history, a clear pass interference that wasn’t called. Nearly ten days have passed and the only semi-official acknowledgment of “the call that wasn’t” came from a private phone call between Al Riveron, the NFL’s head of officiating, and Saints head coach Sean Payton where Payton claims Riveron said “our bad.”
In the meantime, the world has heard from aggrieved Saints fans, lawyers, and even a member of the US Senate. Pick a stool in any of America’s sports bars, or tune your radio to the nearest sports talk station, and you’ve heard the dissection of that error ad nauseum. I had planned to avoid being among the voices you would hear from because I was sure this discussion would die down. But it hasn’t and the reason is as simple as the lesson is large:
You know who hasn’t said a word about any of this? Roger Goodell.
Mr. NFL, the $40 million dollar man who’s made it his mission to protect “the integrity of the game.” Goodell’s so concerned about the game’s integrity that he hasn’t said one word to the public about the officials’ error in that Rams-Saints game, allowing a simple story to turn into a massive dark cloud hanging over the Super Bowl.
Apparently, that integrity only matters when it’s the players who are in the wrong.
I find the silence frustrating. After all, there’s clear video evidence that the referee was wrong. The NFL has punished Robey-Coleman for the illegal contact to the head. Every football fan in America knows that the call was blown. At this point, even NON-football fans know.
So why not just own up to it?
Why not just say, “Hey—the officials made a mistake. It’s unfortunate, it sucks for the Saints nation, and our Competition Committee will go to work this off-season to make sure we get calls like this right when so much is on the line?”
Why not say, “I understand fans are upset, and they have every right to be. Clear and obvious calls like that one must be made in order to preserve the trust our fans have in the game. We got this wrong, and we’re sorry?”
At this point, Goodell’s ghosting is the equivalent of saying, “Too bad, suckers. Life happens.”
I’m not sure what will happen later this week at Goodell’s State of the Game press conference – one of the Super Bowl’s traditional press scrums – but I imagine it will be quite the scene. Especially if Goodell can’t bring himself to admit how badly the NFL has handled this entire debacle.
Maybe it will come up at the biggest pre-game event of all, the NFL Honors Awards on Saturday night. It would actually be a perfect discussion there since the NFL has hired comedian Steve Harvey to host the evening…the same Steve Harvey who emceed the Miss Universe competition in 2015 and told the WRONG contestant that she had won! (Note: He later apologized!)
I do know this, however: if you’re a business leader and you screw something up as badly as the NFL did, you’re nuts if you don’t immediately apologize to your customers. Your business is a promise—and no matter what that promise is, when you break it, you owe it to your customers to acknowledge that broken trust and look for ways to restore it. It’s an act of courage, and it leaves quite the impression.
As much as we may not like to eat crow, the authenticity of admitting a mistake is one of the fastest ways to begin restoring the public’s confidence.
Of course, an apology is worthless if it’s not backed up by action, so once you’ve admitted your mistake and asked for forgiveness, go to work to learn your lesson so you can do better next time.
It’s what good-mannered people do. It’s what I want and expect from my kids, my teammates, and my friends.
Who’d have thought it was too much to ask from the NFL’s most powerful leader?
Just say you’re sorry, Roger. You can’t undo the damage done, but you can certainly stop inflicting more damage, especially during your crown jewel event.
All it takes is two words. We’re all waiting.