The job of an NFL commissioner is to factor every twist and turn into the context of the league's big-picture health, and that's what Roger Goodell did Thursday while speaking for the first time about the Green Bay Packers' controversial 14-12 loss Monday night to the Seattle Seahawks.
During a conference call to discuss the league's labor agreement with its regular officials, Goodell offered measured sympathy for the mistakes that contributed to the Packers' defeat. He classified them in the broader sense of the league's history of officiating blunders -- although he offered no caveat that Monday night's officials were far less qualified than those who contributed to previous mistakes -- and suggested that subsequent outrage over the ending represented "the beauty of sports and the beauty of officiating."
That sentiment surely won't go over well for the Packers and their fans, but if you expected Goodell to apologize suddenly to the franchise and begin discussing reparations, you haven't paid attention to the way the league conducted the two-month officiating lockout. Goodell said he viewed the replacement official era as a short-term pain for the long-term gain of setting up a better officiating structure moving forward. Among other measures, the new agreement will allow the NFL to hire some officials full-time and presumably train them more intensively, while also creating a group of reserve officials who can replace poorly performing regulars.
"To go through something like this is painful for everybody," Goodell said. "… We're sorry to have put our fans through that… For the short term, sometimes you have to do [this] to make sure you get the agreement you need to grow the game."
The conference call touched on a variety of subjects that we've discussed in recent days and weeks, including the credibility issue the league faced and whether player safety was risked. But for now we'll focus on how Goodell viewed Monday night's events.
At one point, a reporter pressed Goodell on why the league did not address the accuracy of the initial call on the final play. Seahawks receiver Golden Tate was judged to have maintained simultaneous possession with Packers safety M.D. Jennings, which by NFL rule is a touchdown and not an interception. The NFL said Wednesday it agreed with the decision not to overturn the call on replay, but did not address whether it agreed that simultaneous possession occurred in the first place.
Thursday, Goodell said he hadn't viewed the play with the league's officiating department because he has been in negotiations all week. He said "I'll stand by" the league's statement.
Standing by a decision not to address a primary question isn't good enough for the commissioner of the NFL. Fortunately, he was asked a follow-up: How could you look at that play and not see it as an interception? Goodell's answer is one that might satisfy a board room but certainly won't resonate well in the locker room or a sports bar.
"You obviously have a very strong view about what you think the call was," he told the reporter. "… That's the beauty of sports and the beauty of officiating. There are controversial calls and people see them differently. I understand that. That's the beauty of sports."
It's only beautiful, I suppose, if you're not the Packers. Asked directly about the impact the play could have on the Packers' playoff hopes, Goodell said: "I understand the frustration."
He then lumped the outrage into what the league office hears after any controversial finish.
"We get that unfortunately on a regular basis throughout any season when there are controversial calls," Goodell said, "particularly [given] the importance of each game. … I understand that after 32 years [in the NFL]. It's particularly sensitive obviously because of the replacement officials. We get that and we understand that. … We want to do everything to make sure that the officiating going forward will avoid mistakes. But it's not practical. Officiating is imperfect. We're going to have mistakes. Whether it's replacement official or [not], it's going to happen.
"It's just part of sports."
I'm sorry, but hiring woefully substandard officials to replace those locked out in a labor dispute is not part of sports. This was a singular period in pro sports history, whether Goodell wants to classify it that way or not. The Packers got sacrificed for what the NFL considered the greater good, and there won't be any apologies. It's a tough world out there. So it goes.