About 13 years ago, Roger Goodell sat before lawmakers answering questions about the NFL’s handling of concussions. During the nearly four-hour hearing, the coalition commissioner was a politician-sounding man. He has often declined to give details, such as whether he believes there is a link between playing football and a brain injury, and Goodell has repeatedly pointed out that he is not a medical expert.
Goodell — the son of a former senator — caused so much frustration in the room that politicians interrupted him several times.
“We hear again and again from the NFL — you’re always ‘learning,’ you’re always ‘trying,’ and you’re ‘hopeful,'” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., told an October 2009 hearing. “I want to know what you’re doing.”
As commissioner, Goodell’s work has resulted in him sometimes interacting with members of Congress. He will do so again Wednesday when he testifies remotely at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on the Washington commander’s workplace misconduct.
If Goodell’s history is any indication, he’s likely spending his time doing what he’s been doing: “protecting the shield.”
That’s a phrase Goodell often uses when describing his role as commissioner, referencing the NFL’s shield emblem. He said his job was to “protect the integrity of the NFL.” Goodell’s critics will note that this usually applies to providing cover for owners who reportedly pay him nearly $64 million a year.
What’s notable about this week’s hearing is that Goodell accepted the committee’s invitation, while Commander owner Dan Snyder did not. But for those expecting Goodell to use the opportunity to distance himself from the troubled billionaire — well, that’s not how the commissioner tends to operate.
“Goodell will again protect/defend and bear the bullet for the owners,” former Packers executive Andrew Brandt tweeted Monday. “Add part of the job description, serve his constituents, and get paid handsomely for it.”
If Goodell does break with Snyder, it would mark a significant escalation in the conflict between the owners and the league. Over the past few months, the NFL has frequently clashed with Snyder and the commanders.
In February, Goodell quickly dismissed the idea that the team would conduct its own investigation into claims by a former employee that Snyder made unwelcome advances at work dinners in 2005 or 2006. That same month, in a letter to the oversight committee, the coalition accused commanders of blocking access to documents requested by the panel in its investigation. Snyder has denied all allegations.
A month later, Goodell told reporters that Snyder was still not involved in the day-to-day operations of the commander in the wake of the team’s workplace scandal — a statement that was strongly opposed by senior sources familiar with the situation. Sources told The Washington Times that Snyder didn’t limit what he could and couldn’t do while overseeing the team and returned to his day job.
Despite the tension, Goodell last month dismissed a report that other owners were “counting votes” to potentially overthrow Snyder. The executive warned those eager to come to a conclusion before the league’s latest investigation into Snyder and the team wraps up.
“Let’s wait and see,” Goodell said.
From his past testimony before Congress, look for Goodell to redirect the conversation and focus on what the coalition did rather than admit mistakes. During a 2009 hearing on concussions, the commissioner highlighted the league’s benefit plan and rule changes for retired players. Goodell often sticks to talking points, repeating how he made them in his opening remarks.
Concussions aside, Goodell also has a history of sticking with Snyder when dealing with Congress. When a group of representatives wrote a letter against the team’s former moniker in 2014, Goodell defended the Redskins’ name – partially replying to the letter “that the name is a uniting force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”
Don’t forget, Goodell also supports how the Coalition handles the investigation of the commander. Goodell, for example, has repeatedly defended the decision not to release a written report of investigator Beth Wilkinson’s findings related to the Washington workplace. Goodell raised the issue of secrecy in his defense, and despite the backlash in his response, the league hasn’t changed its stance.
When Goodell addresses the committee on Wednesday, he is likely to be asked about the subject again. Just last week, six local representatives — including some committee members — signed a letter asking the NFL to release Wilkinson’s report before this week’s hearing.
If asked again, lawmakers might not like his answer.