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Asked to address open court vs. arbitration, Roger Goodell masterfully deflected

A judge has denied the NFL's attempt to dismiss Jon Gruden's lawsuit or compel arbitration, which could potentially be the beginning to the end of the league's dependence on private arbitration.

Commissioner Roger Goodell infrequently sits for one-on-one interviews. But he conducts at least five press conferences per year.

Press conferences, from the perspective of the person giving the press conference, are safer. You’re asked a question, you answer it, and then it moves on to the next reporter, who asks the next question. While it can sometimes get a little uncomfortable when multiple reporters are asking about the same thing (requiring quick work to get the microphone to someone who will ask about something else), the scattershot, one-question-per-topic approach of a press conference is far better than getting Morley Safered by someone who: (1) knows the subject matter thoroughly; (2) is willing to ask tough questions and pointed follow-ups; and (3) has the time and opportunity to do so.

Earlier this week, we showed how Goodell managed to bulldoze his way through the minefield of materials showing that the Rams and the league told bald-faced lies about Stan Kroenke’s intentions regarding land he’d purchased in Inglewood, California. During that same press conference, Goodell engaged in another impressive act of verbal sleight of hand when asked a simple question about the league’s ongoing love affair with arbitration.

Jarrett Bell of USA Today tried to get Goodell to address the philosophical basis for the NFL’s chronic effort to force lawsuits from the normal public litigation system and into a process that I have been calling (and won’t stop calling, because it’s accurate) a secret, rigged kangaroo court. Goodell completely ignored the actual question regarding the basis for the league’s obsession to abandon transparent, fair procedures for something that can be kept concealed -- and that involves the scales necessarily being tipped in favor of the NFL and its member franchises.

Bell ultimately asked Goodell to “define” the league’s position on the matter of open court versus arbitration, specifically in the context of the Jon Gruden case. Said Goodell, “I don’t think that’s a decision I’m going to make, Jarrett. It sounds to me that’s what the court’s going to make. We’ll wait and see what the court decides.”

The next day, the court decided that the NFL’s effort to force Gruden’s claims to arbitration must fail. The judge ruled against the league straight from the bench; she didn’t even take a Wapner-style five-minute break.

The NFL lost this one, badly. But the NFL will keep appealing and appealing and appealing for as long as it can, both because it refuses to accept the objective weaknesses of its position and because it wants to buy as much time as possible before facing the merits of the claims in open court.

The NFL and the Rams took its Hail Mary effort to force the St. Louis case into arbitration all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It will surely do the same with Gruden.

Through it all, we’ll never get a direct answer to Bell’s question. Although the answer is obvious, it would be nice if the NFL and/or Goodell eventually would be compelled to admit publicly the reasons for its effort to keep its various legal fights private.