The Stephen Ross investigation continues; when will it conclude?
The bad thing about a Roger Goodell press conference is that no single topic receives thorough treatment. The good news is that plenty of topics receive at least a cursory mention.
During his recent meeting with reporters after the conclusion of league meetings in Atlanta, Goodell was asked for an update regarding the investigation sparked by allegations from former Dolphins coach Brian Flores that team owner Stephen Ross offered to pay $100,000 per loss in 2019.
“There is not any update on that,” Goodell said. He added that Mary Jo White -- the supposed “independent” lawyer who currently is handling multiple “independent” investigations for the league -- continues to look into the situation.
How hard can it be? How much time can it take? Ross made the offer, or he didn’t.
Flores claims he did. Although speaking directly to Flores raises potential complications given that his lawsuit contends, among other things, that his firing was motivated by his resistance to this request and efforts to blow the whistle on it, White has indeed (we’re told) interviewed Flores. He cooperated fully with the investigation in April.
From there, White can pursue any leads the Flores may have identified -- specifically, other witnesses to the offer. Back in February, the league-owned media conglomerate reported that an unnamed witness did indeed corroborate the claim Flores had made. Likewise, emails, text messages, and other relevant documents from the time period in question can be gathered and reviewed. Eventually, Ross and other key members of Dolphins management would be interviewed.
It really shouldn’t take very long to do all of it. Unless Mary Jo White is so occupied with other NFL work that she doesn’t have time to get it done.
We’ve been saying for years as it relates to White and other supposedly “independent” investigators that there’s no true independence. The lifeblood of large corporate law firms (years ago, I worked for one in Pittsburgh) is what they call “cost-insensitive clients.” These firms want to be hired and hired and hired again to work on significant projects that will entail minimal scrutiny of the massive monthly invoices generated. The notoriety of projects like these also will get the lawyer’s name mentioned in various media platforms, which will help the lawyer and her firm more work from other cost-insensitive clients.
The point is that, in order to continue to get these assignments, the lawyer has to be sufficiently savvy to understand what the client wants, and to gently nudge the findings that way.
Most contested issues have multiple plausible outcomes. This one obviously does. It’s a binary choice; Ross did it, or he didn’t.
Although some think the league won’t hesitate to find Ross guilty of making a specific offer of cash for losing games, the broader context could make such a finding unwise. From the Flores lawsuit to the potential impact of such a declaration on the external scrutiny the NFL currently is experiencing to potential criminals liability under the Sports Betting Act to possibility of a class-action lawsuit against the league on behalf of anyone who placed bets on the Dolphins in 2019 to the league’s stubborn and unrealistic insistence that no team ever tanks, chances are that the NFL just wants this one to go away quietly.
If so, chances are that the “independent” lawyer the NFL has hired to investigate will find a way to do just that. Eventually. And inevitably.