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In Rice case, what does “accountable” really mean?


Commissioner Roger Goodell has said on multiple occasions that he’s accountable for the many problems with the Ray Rice investigation and ultimate suspension. But what does it really mean to be accountable?

For players, coaches, team executives, and owners who break the rules, it means fines and suspensions. For teams, it means fines and the potential loss of draft picks or salary cap space.

For folks in the league office, accountability looks to be simply a word.

To confirm that, look no farther that the deposition given by Goodell in the Super Bowl ticket fiasco lawsuit. PFT has obtained a copy of the 317-page document, and an intriguing exchange between Goodell and lawyer Michael Avenatti begins at page 119. It appears below.

Q. Who has been held accountable, if anyone, with the NFL with regard to what happened with the temporary seats?

Attorney Thad Behrens: Objection, vague.

Goodell: What do you mean, accountable?

Q. Have you ever used the word accountable?

Goodell: Yes, sir.

Q. All right. What do you understand the word accountable to mean?

Goodell: You’ve asked me in the beginning that you wanted me to make sure that I understand the question. I’m trying to understand your question.

Q. That’s not my question. My question is what do you generally -- what have you generally understood the word accountability to mean when you’ve used it.

Goodell: Is that the first question that you asked or -- I’m asking for a clarification on your question.

Q. I’m going to strike the question and I’m going to ask you another question.

Goodell: Okay.

Q. All right. What have you generally understood the word accountable to mean when you’ve used it?

Goodell: That you are responsible, and that you take responsibility.

Q. And that you make good on your failure, right?

Attorney Thad Behrens: Objection. It mischaracterizes his testimony.

Goodell: I think I answered your question.

Q. Have you held anyone with the NFL accountable for the failures relating to the temporary seats at Super Bowl 45?

Attorney Thad Behrens: Objection, vague. You can answer.

Goodell: Again, I’ve been very clear. We’re all accountable for this. Our staff has worked hard to contact those fans to make the offer. We continue to still make good on those offers, and we will do so. So yes, we’re all accountable for that.

Q. Have you caused anyone to be disciplined in connection with their -- the failures relating to the temporary seat issues at Super Bowl 45?

Goodell: To be disciplined?

Q. Yeah. You’re familiar -- you’re familiar with the word disciplined, right?

Goodell: Yes.

Q. Okay. I mean you hand out discipline on a consistent basis, in connection with being the leader of the NFL, in an effort to protect the shield, right?

Attorney Thad Behrens: Objection. You’re badgering the witness.

Goodell: (Laughing).

Q. No, I’m stating a fact. I mean he -- it’s well known that he does that. Right, Mr. Goodell?

Attorney Thad Behrens: Objection. This is outside the scope.

Goodell: I apply discipline --

Q. Okay.

Goodell: -- in the context of violation of our policies.

Q. All right.

Goodell: -- when a team violates policies, lawyer or other individuals involved with the NFL.

Q. Have you applied any discipline whatsoever in connection with the failures surrounding the temporary seating issues at Super Bowl 45?

Goodell: Discipline wouldn’t be the word I would use. There are people that recognize our responsibility, and there was an impact for that, for all of us.

Q. Have you caused anyone to lose their job over the failures in connection with the Super Bowl 45 temporary seats?

Goodell: No, I have not.

The questioning then focused on whether any employee has suffered a consequence to his or her job because of the Super Bowl ticket fiasco. Goodell explained that, generally, it can affect bonus payments and promotions. Pressed for the name of any person affected by the situation, Goodell did not provide one.

Many have assumed that, in the Rice case, one or more key employees of the league office will be held accountable with the loss of their jobs. Based on the Super Bowl ticket fiasco, however, that assumption could be erroneous.

After all, if anyone in the upper reaches of the NFL loses his job now, it could become very hard to explain why the axe of accountability didn’t fall one level higher.