Roger Goodell has history of ‘protecting the shield’ when meeting with Congress

Roger Goodell sat in front of lawmakers almost 13 years ago to answer questions about the NFL’s handling of concussions. Throughout the nearly four-hour hearing, the league’s commissioner was the one who sounded like a politician. He often declined to give specifics like whether he believed there was a link between playing football and contracting a brain-related injury, with Goodell repeatedly noting that he wasn’t a medical expert.

The generalities from Goodell — the son of a former senator — led to so much frustration within the room that the politicians cut him off on multiple occasions.

“​​We’ve heard from the NFL time and time again — you’re always ‘studying,’ you’re always ‘trying,’ you’re ‘hopeful,” Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, said in the October 2009 hearing. “I want to know what are you doing.”

As commissioner, Goodell’s job causes him to sometimes interact with members of Congress. And on Wednesday, he’ll do so again when he remotely testifies at a hearing from the House Oversight and Reform Committee on the Washington Commanders’ workplace misconduct. 

If Goodell’s history is any indication, he’ll likely spend his time doing what he has always done: “Protecting the Shield.”

That’s the phrase, a reference to the NFL’s shield logo, that Goodell has routinely used when describing his role as commissioner. His job, he has said, is to “protect the integrity of the NFL.” And Goodell’s critics will note that often applies to providing cover for the owners who pay him reportedly almost $64 million per year.  

This week’s hearing is notable that Goodell accepted the committee’s invitation, while Commanders owner Dan Snyder did not. But for those who expect Goodell to use the opportunity to distance himself from the embattled billionaire — well, that’s not how the commissioner tends to operate.

“Goodell will once again protect/defend and take bullets for owners,” former Packers executive Andrew Brandt tweeted Monday. “Increasing part of job description, serving his constituents well and paid handsomely for it.”

If Goodell does break from Snyder, then it will mark a significant escalation in the conflict between the owner and the league. Over the past few months, the NFL has periodically clashed with Snyder and the Commanders.

In February, Goodell quickly rebutted the idea that the team would launch its own probe into a former employee’s claims that Snyder made an unwanted advance at a work dinner in 2005 or 2006. That same month, in a letter to the Oversight Committee, the league blamed the Commanders for blocking access to documents that the panel had requested as part of their investigation. Snyder has denied all allegations.

A month later, Goodell told reporters that Snyder still wasn’t involved in the day-to-day operations of the Commanders after the team’s workplace scandal — a statement that received strong pushback from a high-ranking source familiar with the situation. Snyder, the source told The Washington Times, has no restrictions on what he can and can’t do in overseeing the franchise and was back tending to the day-to-day. 

Despite the tension, Goodell dismissed a report last month that said fellow owners were “counting votes” to potentially oust Snyder. The executive cautioned those eager to make conclusions before the league’s latest investigation into Snyder and the team concluded.

“Let’s wait to get the facts,” Goodell said. 

Judging by his past testimony in front of Congress, look for Goodell to redirect the conversation and focus on what the league has done rather than acknowledge faults. During the 2009 hearing on concussions, the commissioner emphasized the league’s benefit plan for retired players and rule changes. Goodell often stuck to the talking points, repeatedly referring to how he made them in his opening remarks.

Beyond concussions, Goodell has a history of sticking by Snyder when dealing with Congress. In 2014, when a group of representatives wrote a letter that voiced opposition to the team’s former moniker, Goodell defended the Redskins’ name — writing back in part “the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.” 

And don’t forget, Goodell has also stood by how the league has handled its investigation into the Commanders. For instance, Goodell has repeatedly defended the decision to not issue a written report of investigator Beth Wilkinson’s findings related to Washington’s workplace. Goodell has cited confidentiality concerns in his justification, and though he’s received pushback for that response, the league hasn’t moved off its original stance. 

Goodell could very well be asked about the topic again Wednesday when he speaks to the committee. Just last week, six local representatives — including a few who sit on the committee — signed a letter that demanded the NFL release the Wilkinson report ahead of this week’s hearing. 

If asked again, the lawmakers might not like his answer. 

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