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Roger Goodell shouldn’t escape scrutiny in Jameis Winston suspension

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The Commissioner should be held to perhaps the highest standard, and hasn’t reached the mark in this case.

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

One virtue has been left out of many Jameis Winston conversations while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback has been under investigation: Integrity.

But let’s talk about that virtue and how it applies to this conversation as well as the NFL as an executive office.

Both sides of this argument have pointed to integrity – or a lack thereof – as a focal point in their case for condemnation or absolution.

For those who refuse to blame Winston without hard evidence, the battle cry is varied but one of the key points is lack of reliability in the story due to delay in reporting the player and the reports the driver didn’t know who he was until she was told by other individuals.

The ‘Blame Jameis’ crowd has a different argument. Sort of a ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ type of mantra, but in reverse. Simply, how many times can a man be accused of sexually focused misconduct before people start believing it’s true.

Of course, then there’s the original statement where the fourth-year quarterback flat-out denied any truth behind the report, only to at least accept NFL findings he touched her, “in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent…”

Ronald Darby’s integrity is also being brought into question as the Uber driver’s lawyer told Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz that Darby was apparently still outside of the club while Winston was in the woman’s vehicle. Although, it doesn’t appear Darby will face any punishments for his lack of integrity.

Of course, a lack of discipline for Darby lends credence to thought he may have contradicted his public statements when he was questioned by the league – assuming he was. The NFL’s personal conduct policy clearly states, “A failure to cooperate with an investigation or to be truthful in responding in inquiries will be separate grounds for disciplinary actions.”

If Darby’s statements to the league investigator(s) were consistent with what he said publicly, and there’s evidence he was still at the club while Winston was in the vehicle in question, then the Eagles player would certainly be subject to punishment himself.

There’s another crowd observing the Winston drama too, and another person whose integrity is being called into question. This is the group who looks at this with a little wider scope. The one where Roger Goodell is the focus.

According to the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL Players Association and the league, all incidents of actions detrimental to the integrity, public confidence or the game of football itself will be processed by the Commissioner himself.

This is where Goodell’s own integrity comes into question for some. Specific parallels are being drawn to the case of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who received a six-game suspension in 2010 following accusations he raped a college student in a bathroom in Georgia.

While he was not charged in criminal court for the accusations, Goodell found at the time that Roethlisberger’s actions could not, “remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.”

Then there’s Ezekiel Elliott. The Dallas Cowboys running back was also suspended six games stemming from accusations he physically harmed a former girlfriend from his collegiate days and video evidence he exposed the breasts of a woman while at a St. Patrick’s Day event. In the second case, no charges were brought about and it does not appear by what I could find the woman took offense to Elliott’s actions.

Nonetheless, Elliott received the same amount of games as Roethlisberger before him despite any formal charges being brought on.

Another case has also been brought in to the comparison question. That of New England Patriots quarterback, Tom Brady.

Brady was suspended four games for his alleged role in deflating game-balls below the allowed level of air.

So, the question is: Does Roger Goodell and the NFL believe sexual assault – which is what the accusation against Winston is about – is less serious than the PSI levels of footballs?

Even if they’re post-season footballs the answer should never be, ‘no’. Sexual misconduct of any kind has to be more serious than functional cheating on the playing field. In no way do I condone cheating, but there are coaches who scheme illegal pick plays knowing they conflict with the rules of NFL football.

We don’t see those guys getting four-game suspensions, nor should we. Now, my own personal questioning of the integrity of this investigation doesn’t stem from comparative punishments though. It lies with transparency versus secrecy.

In both Roethlisberger and Elliott’s cases the NFL sent a letter to both individuals and the contents were eventually released. Hence the quotes I’ve pulled from them for this very post. I couldn’t have read them or accessed them unless the letters or contents of them had been made available to the media at the very least.

Folks, there’s a 243-page report about Brady and deflated footballs. Two-Hundred-And-Fort-Three. That’s 242 pages longer than the NFL’s statement on Winston when they handed out his suspension.

Let’s be honest, if I were to put you in a room and give you these facts only: There is a 243-page report and a one-page synopsis. One covers the inflation of footballs and one covers the alleged sexual assault of a female by a star NFL quarterback. Would you expect the sexual assault to be the one-pager?

If you’re being honest, your answer is no.

We don’t know how long Winston’s letter is as it has not been released. According to a CBS Sports report, it won’t be. The contents of this letter are very important. Because it would reveal what the NFL’s investigation found, and what Winston’s own defense or claims were as well.

In his personal statement, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback offered no admission or defense of the accusations. He only apologized for putting the driver in the position she was in, and professed he’d stopped drinking. Great. But it’s not a declaration of truth in the matter.

With the NFL not releasing the letter it is assumed it’s not doing so as part of an agreement made with Winston. Leading one to believe there are factors of this investigation both parties don’t want brought to light.

My assumption – which is all I can make at this point – is that the NFL had no ‘smoking gun’ which the CSI generations expect in these instances. And they didn’t want a prolonged legal battle similar to the one they experienced with Ezekiel Elliott.

Winston also didn’t have whatever the opposite of a smoking gun would be. Given his past and the fact he’s on the last year of his rookie deal, he too didn’t want a prolonged process but also didn’t want to admit guilt which his silent acceptance of a six-game ban would theoretically provide.

So, the two sides came together in an effort, not to act with integrity but to survive mutually. Hey, survival is a strong instinct.

Finally, there’s enough shady behavior, misdirected statements, and half-truths littering this entire incident and ensuing investigation to warrant mistrust of all parties involved. Some more than others.

But, as the executive leader of the National Football League, Goodell should be held to a higher standard than even the owners who are also held to a higher standard according to agreed upon policies.

At the end of the day, all of the actions taken by the league are supposedly in an effort to “refrain from “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the NFL.”

Integrity: the quality of being honest……

None of this is honest. None of this has been executed with integrity. And the shield has not been protected by anyone. Especially the man who is supposed to be protecting it from the highest level of authority. And it’s time someone called him out for it.