In this 2013 profile from Don Van Natta Jr., Roger Goodell talks about protecting the shield. As describe in the article:
Goodell likes to say that for the NFL and football to evolve and continue to thrive, everyone must contribute: players, coaches, officials, executives and the commissioner. But, he often reminds people, he is the commissioner, and it’s his job to safeguard the game’s integrity — “protect the shield,” as he puts it.
To us, safeguarding the game’s integrity means pouring all the resources required and being as transparent as possible on figuring out the problems associated with CTE. It means being upfront and direct in dealing with the Ray Rice issue.
To Goodell, safeguarding carries a different meaning: it’s not our problem until it threatens the integrity of the NFL.
So, replacement refs are okay until a debacle like Green Bay versus Seattle happens. Football doesn’t have a concussion problem, but Bountygate offered an opportunity for Goodell to put his foot down on controlling violence in the game. Richie Incognito? Riley Cooper? Let’s kick around the idea of instituting a 15-yard penalty for saying the N-Word. Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee and now wife? Domestic violence is a problem, but it’s not the NFL’s problem until we have no choice because it’s overshadowing our game.
The version of the story the NFL is telling: they reviewed Ray Rice’s case without seeing what actually happened in the elevator, decided to hand out a two-game suspension, saw the backlash (integrity threatened!), instituted a new domestic violence policy, saw the Rice video for the first time (integrity threatened!), and decided to suspend him indefinitely.
The version that’s likely more true: the NFL had every chance to view the tape back in April. At best there was miscommunication at the NFL office and the higher-ups including Goodell decided on the suspension without seeing the footage. At worst they saw the tape and somehow decided a two-game suspension was the way to go, and went about denying that they had indeed seen the tape.
The question — regardless of the version of truth — that I couldn’t stop thinking about tonight was this: what exactly was Goodell’s motivation to hand down just a two-game suspension on Rice, when removing him from the league entirely would have been the easier option for the NFL?
Remember, we’re not debating the type of punishment Rice deserved, there’s no debate there because he deserved the absolute worst, but we’re trying to figure out why Goodell would proceed the way he did given the painstaking lengths he goes to in order to protect the shield on his own terms.
I’m really not sure I have it figured out at all. It’s hard to try and put myself in Goodell’s shoes, because he has such a narrow minded view in how he makes decisions. There’s no greater good in anything he does, only how it can keep the league functioning as it is.
"If it’s a lie, then we fight on that lie" is probably the easiest way to describe it.
Now the NFL is proceeding to investigate their own investigation. Just think about how stupid that is, and how embarrassing it is for this league. But maybe not. Goodell will fight through this lie, the game will go on, and he will continue protecting the shield.