John McMullen - NFL Editor Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Perception is a big problem for the NFL.
Or to be more accurate, the fact that important people in the league don't understand the simple concept that perception is often greater than reality for the casual audience they crave is troubling.
How else can you explain the NFL's vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino, getting caught stumbling out of Jerry Jones' "party bus" or Mr. Credibility himself, commissioner Roger Goodell, feeling it's OK to have dinner with his BFF, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, the day before the AFC Championship Game?
Conspiracy theorists only need one innocent slip-up to build their narrative around, which is why public figures in positions that demand trust are always told to avoid the appearance of impropriety at all costs.
Incompetence didn't equal conspiracy in North Texas earlier this month when referee Pete Morelli picked up the flag on what should have been a pass interference penalty against the Dallas Cowboys in their wild-card round win against the Detroit Lions, but the 9/11-truthers had the Blandino picture to bolster their spin.
The fact that the same guy was instrumental in overturning Dez Bryant's awe- inspiring catch a week later in Green Bay due to a bad rule that could have been easily ignored is just a pesky footnote in a short-attention-span- culture.
Kraft was breaking bread with the commish before the NFL unleashed a sting operation, likely fueled by the green eye of John Harbaugh, to try to find out if the Patriots were indeed deflating football purposefully to give Tom Brady some kind of perceived edge.
"Will they be punished? Probably not," Seahawks star cornerback Richard Sherman said when asked about the issue. "Not as long as Robert Kraft and Goodell are still taking pictures at their respective homes. I think he was just at Kraft's house last week for the AFC Championship. Talk about conflict of interest. You know, as long as that happens, it won't affect them at all. Nothing will."
Common sense says if Goodell was so intent of protecting his buddy, he might have tipped him off between courses so the evil Kraft could have alerted his "rogue" equipment people to stop messing with Tom Terrific's balls (you can insert "Family Guy"-like joke here).
Instead Goodell shut his mouth, polished off his sorbet and caught the Patriots in the act with 11 of 12 deflated footballs, which more than likely meant next to nothing in their 45-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts.
The perception, though, is dwarfing that common sense.
"I think the perception is the reality," Sherman said. "It is what it is. Their resume speaks for itself. You talk about getting close to the line ... I don't really have a comment about that, but their past is what their past is, their present is what their present is.
"It's the world we live in. It's the league we play in."
Ensuing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady press conferences, which attempted to explain the deflated footballs, have already launched 1,000 different comedy careers and made Science Guy Bill Nye and Mona Lisa Vito from "My Cousin Vinny" relevant in the world of professional football.
Kraft, meanwhile, seems upset that his favorite employee didn't tip him off, even asking for an apology when the Patriots are cleared of any wrongdoing.
"I believe unconditionally that the New England Patriots have done nothing wrong," Kraft said before adding that if the NFL-backed investigation into the scandal finds nothing wrong, "I would hope the NFL would apologize."
"If the (Ted} Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope that the league would apologize to our entire team and in particular Coach Belichick and Tom Brady for what they have had to endure this past week," he said.
A prepared statement, of course, prohibited any follow-up questions regarding the FOXSports report that the league has identified a locker-room attendant as a "person of interest" in Deflategate or as many others like to call him, the sacrifice at the altar of Belichick and Brady.
Whatever the outcome or the truth for that matter, though, it's never going to be good enough for a portion of the public following this nonsense.
And it's a systemic problem.
By any measure that doesn't rely on EBITDA, Goodell has had a disastrous year as NFL commissioner. But, even if he made no missteps regarding Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson or everything else that has crossed his desk, ultimately he's beholden to the people who employ him -- the owners.
And the last time I looked, the puppet is never the one pulling the stings.
"I'm disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled," a defiant Kraft ominously said. "We expect hard facts as opposed to circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation."