The League That Lies


You never quite fully realize how dirty you feel about the NFL, until you shift your attention away to the other three major sports. Now that baseball’s always thrilling October post-season is underway, I took a moment to think about how I view Rob Manfred and MLB.

And sure enough, just like I look at the NBA and the NHL, I view the leagues as honest, neutral brokers. Sure, they want to make lots and lots of money, just like the NFL. Sure they want publicly financed stadiums – where possible. They want to play one TV network off another for maximum rights fees. And of course they want to open up additional revenue streams via digital, social media, merchandise and such, and even have eyes on international expansion.

Yet none of the other leagues are nearly as slimy as the NFL and Roger Goodell. Not even close.

For starters, each of the other three commissioners has a brain. And they are readily available to normal media opportunities (press conferences, and non-handpicked one on one interviews) and handle themselves with nimble mind, self-awareness, and general honesty. All three are accomplished lawyers who would be capable executives outside of their sports.

Goodell? Hah. Right.

He’s the fair haired idiot of a United States Senator who wrote a letter to the league and got an internship right out of his modest undegraduate degree from a little known college. Bing bang boom… and he’s now somehow making $43 million a year.

The NFL is now at the point where lying is what they do best, and they do it instinctively. They lie about things large, and small. And the dishonesty has so drenched the entire bureaucratic empire, that even when you KNOW you saw something happen – the league will swoop in to tell you: “Oh yeah? No, no you didn’t.”

That’s what happened Sunday in the Browns-Redskins game. A colossal officiating screw up, initiated embarrassingly enough by the league’s feel-good social engineering experiment – Sarah Thomas, aka: “Pretty Girl Ref!” – went uncorrected by the league’s vaunted (and expensive, and multi-layered) replay system.

Determining if a wide receiver got both feet in bounds, when he’s flying past you at incredible speed, while maintaining full control of the ball “through the completion of the catch” is hard.

Fumble recoveries are not.

You see who has the football, and point in the correct direction.

And yet, there was Ms. Thomas – a wonderful person, I am sure, and with some degree of officiating experience I’ve been told – botching the call in the most absurd way possible. There was the running back who fumbled, HOLDING THE BALL ABOVE HIS HEAD, while Thomas was looking at a pile of nothing on the ground, and boldly getting the call absolutely wrong.

From there, the typical corporate ass-covering began to accelerate at lightning speed. Her fellow referees – complicit in the error – must have decided that it’s not good for their careers to show up the league’s famous “Pretty Girl Ref!” and just went with the call.

The eye in the sky, likely did the same, all the way up to the vaunted “Command Center” in NYC where Dean Blandino – the man who rules the universe! – sits as God before his bank of monitors. The play stood, and the coverup formed like skin on soup getting cold.

(Note: My spies at FedEx Field said there was a large group of VIP women who were seen taking photos with Ms. Thomas in her referee outfit after the game. Which makes sense. She’s as much a marketing asset, as a side judge!)

The bullshit explanation after the game, was that “no clear angle” showed the ball being recovered by the Browns.

Like I said to start this whole thing: this is the league that lies.

And it’s a league that has proven – hello, Deflategate – that it will “die with the lie.” No matter what the cost in dollars, credibility, or reputation.

So this year, when pundits are wondering why TV ratings are down – in almost every apples-to-apples time slot – make sure you build into the explanation episodes like this one.

Not only is it maddening beyond belief to invest so much time, energy and money into being a fan of your team, only to get completely BONED by inexcusable errors on the field, followed by Three Stooges caliber incompetence by the replay system meant to save the day. But it’s also beyond insulting to have the league continue to lie to your face, and call YOU stupid for not understanding the rules better.

It’s not a massive screw up. No, it’s a “bad visual.”

That’s what the NFL is all about now anyway. Visuals. Optics. “Look at how progressive we are! A female ref! A gay linebacker! The Rooney Rule!” And now, the Kaepernick Knee-Takers.

The NFL isn’t going away, or going broke, or going to lose it’s Top Dawg status anytime soon. But the bleeding HAS begun. We’ll see if, or when, it gets bad enough for somebody with a brain to find a tourniquet.

A good place to start, would be the truth.



  1. Czabe, your take on the league going lie first is brilliant. At every opportunity, when the truth would hurt but be correct, they go with the lie. We as fans would have some respect for Roger if he stuck up for the truth. But he doesn’t. Just cut another video of him running in his socks down the hallway.
    Ray Rice, Brady, the fumble. Three big issues that would have gone away quickly had he and the league told the truth. But they don’t. And we as fans suffer.

    Another reason why I love Gary Bettman.

  2. Sticking to the truth, keeping it simple, and being transparent ensures that your product is strong, which means you will prosper for the long run. That’s what Rozelle and Tagliabue understood. Once you get away from the truth, and start caring more about the “optics”, and start adding more and more complexity into the situation, your product suffers. People eventually figure it out and stop buying.

  3. I officiated for many years. When I went to make the move to college, the politics of it made me ill. As for the call, my last words to my crew before each game were, “see it, see it, call it.” She violated that rule. She never saw the ball. Her best move would have been to simply stop the clock and signal the play dead – then confer with her fellow officials….that’s what they are for. She panicked – which means she has no business doing NFL football. She didn’t want to look bad, so she guessed. The NFL then confirmed the fallacy – lest they have to admit their error in putting her on the field in the first place.

  4. Although glad it helped the Skins, that was one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen in my 50+ years of playing/watching sports.

  5. Wait until week 9 when Brady, Ben, Aaron and Joe are on the IR and Sundays are a parade of back-up guys nobody has heard of. Ratings magic I tell ya!

  6. NFL ratings are down and ESPN is hemorrhaging so many viewers that it’s a drag on Disney earnings. Hmm, what do these two have in common? They’ve become modern-day scolds – and to the men leading both, that’s OK. Goodell and Skipper are like CBS president Les Moonves who said of his Tonys broadcast: “the show is a money-loser for CBS, but there are certain things that are more important than making money….part of being a broadcaster is public trust.”

    See? They know better. And everything they do, they do for our own good. Goodell, Skipper and Moonves are men who fervently need to believe they themselves are enlightened, morally correct and not at all old. Their decisions are in tune with everyone else they know in Manhattan. If they’re out of sync with their audiences, it’s the audiences’ fault for being such rubes. Better to lose fans, sacrifice profits and lie than risk being called sexist or bigoted or whatever.

    What Moonves calls “public trust” is a joke. These are vanity projects and morality plays. Lying is OK in service to this greater good.


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