In 19 days, the US House Oversight & Reform Committee will hold a hearing regarding workplace issues within the Washington Commanders organization, the league’s investigation of it, and the league’s decision to cover up the findings and conclusions — to the point where the league specifically asked the investigator to not even prepare written recommendations. The Committee has invited Commissioner Roger Goodell and Washington owner Daniel Snyder to testify.
Both the league and the team have said that they’ll respond to the invitation in a “timely manner.” Surely, neither Goodell nor Snyder want to testify. But let’s assume that Goodell participates. (Snyder, with his ownership of the team riding on the issue, will surely do whatever he can to avoid showing up and answering questions.) What will happen when he’s questioned?
As a practical matter, anything and everything can happen. He’ll be questioned by the various members of the Committee in five-minute chunks. Some of the Committee members will use their time to make speeches. Some will complain that the hearing and the investigation amount to a waste of resources. Some will take advantage of the opportunity to publicly grill someone who rarely if ever gets truly grilled in a public setting.
We mentioned recently one of the very real benefits of the press-conference approach to Commissioner access. A reporter asks a question, Goodell answers it (or, as the case may be, doesn’t answer it), and then the next reporter asks a different question about a different topic. There’s usually no follow-up question asked, even if the answer (or, as the case may be, non-answer) cries out for it.
That won’t happen before Congress. If Goodell is asked a direct question and doesn’t answer it, the next question will go like this: “Sir, you did not answer my question. Please answer my question.”
Goodell will face pointed questions about the decision to hide the results of the 10-month investigation conducted by attorney Beth Wilkinson. And the stupid, nonsensical argument that they opted to keep all findings and conclusions secret because some of the employees who were interviewed requested anonymity won’t fly in that setting.
It can work in a press conference, where no reporter has the power to say, for example, “Sir, you did not answer my question. Please answer my question.” It won’t work before Congress, when one or more of the Committee members will be ready to pounce on the disingenuous idea that, because some employees didn’t want their names to be made public, all of the evidence and information and findings had to be kept secret.
Here’s the other reality. The Committee members won’t be restricted to asking questions about the Commanders situation and the league’s handling of it. They can grill Goodell about the leaks of the Jon Gruden emails, which served as the spark for the current Congressional probe. They can ask about Deshaun Watson. They can ask about the Brian Flores litigation. They can ask about the Stephen Ross investigation.
It can go in a bunch of different directions. And the harder Goodell tries to slip away from answering one or more of the questions, the greater the chance he’ll face the kind of resistance he never sees at a press conference and rarely experiences in a one-on-one interview because: ( 1) he rarely does them; and (2) he never does them with someone who will ask pointed questions regarding topics on which Goodell would prefer not to be questioned.