The National Football League is facing perhaps its most public crisis. Player arrests and indictments are making headlines. League and team officials are fumbling their way through these cases, appearing more responsive to public outrage than player wrongdoing. Sponsors are wavering and calling for action. For all the wrong reasons, the NFL is in the spotlight. Yet, it would seem a searchlight is needed to find NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
"The league is in chaos, and America needs to hear from him," Sports Illustrated's Peter King wrote of Goodell on Wednesday. "I believe he certainly should have spoken by now."
Last week, Goodell gave an account of the NFL's handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case that was later called into doubt by a report from The Associated Press and backed out of a longstanding commitment to attend the San Francisco 49ers' first home game at their new stadium. In recent days, Goodell has remained conspicuously absent with the NFL under intense scrutiny, reportedly holed up in league headquarters on Park Avenue in New York City.
"He's been working every day (and much of the night) in the office this week on these issues," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an email to ESPN.
While working behind closed doors this week, Goodell granted a rare status to two NFL stars embroiled in ugly legal cases. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, indicted in a child injury case last week and Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, found guilty of assault on a female in July, were placed on the Commissioner's Exempt List, making them ineligible to play.
Goodell, who was named commissioner in 2006, became synonymous with the phrase "protecting the shield," a reference to the NFL logo, during the early years of his tenure. He toughened the league's personal conduct policy in 2007 and was eventually named the most powerful person in sports in May 2013 by Sports Illustrated. He was featured on the cover of the magazine sitting in the famous iron seat of power from HBO's "Game of Thrones."
Fifteen months later, calls for Goodell's resignation increase as his visibility has seemed to decrease. After a women's advocacy group paid to have "Goodell Must Go" banners flown of NFL stadiums, questions about when and where Goodell will actually show up to face the public grow louder. Steve Politi of NJ.com wondered if sponsor unrest would be enough to "shake Goodell out of hiding." Noting Goodell's absence from the public conversations about domestic violence and child abuse swirling around the NFL, AP Sports Columnist Tim Dahlberg called on Goodell to step forward and face the media.
"Through it all, Goodell remains incommunicado, waiting for the perfect storm he could have never imagined blows over before getting back to earning his $44 million a year. His job seems safe, with billionaire owners falling over themselves to offer their continued support for a commissioner that has helped nearly double the value of their franchises during his time in office," wrote Dahlberg on Thursday, via CBS New York. "But at a time when public leadership is needed most, Goodell is missing in action. He has had little to offer about the Rice uproar other than a few interviews that were quickly outdated and a few appointments that were quickly panned. And he hasn’t said anything publicly about Peterson."