Few things annoy me more than when the argument “He should have known” or “She should have known” is used.
A whole lot of media people are saying that about Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League.
They are saying and writing that because of a video that shows Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens punching out his then-fiancee.
The act was horrific and brutal and deserves the condemnation it has received, but between that barbarous act and what the commissioner knew and when he knew it, virtually the entire sports writing fraternity, in its rush to judgment, is claiming that the commissioner knew of the video, or that “he should have known” of the video.
Among those who slipped the moorings of their intellectual tether and fairness in their frenzied rush to join the vigilantes is Bill Plaschke, who simply assaulted the commissioner in a recent Los Angeles Times column. But in his egregious teardown, he was just being one of the frat boys of sports journalism, piling on Goodell because the frat boys are “morally outraged” by the commissioner’s handling of the Rice matter.
Plaschke’s attack upon Goodell was quite stunning, especially about those in sports who have encountered extraordinary challenges in their lives -- but this was not that Bill Plaschke.
But back to the “he/she should have known” claim. Intellectually, it’s bogus. Because, unless you are spending 24/7 with someone, there is no way you have absolute knowledge of how one’s life is lived moment by moment, day by day.
When marriages break up due to spouses discovering their husbands/wives cheated; or when parents discover their children are using drugs; or when business relationships fall apart due to dishonesty; or when journalists write fiction as fact, people will say -- because people say it all the time of spouses, parents, partners and editors -- “they should have known.”
It’s an argument I reject. To use it is to unwittingly reveal defects in your rational thinking.
I’ve known Roger Goodell since he was 10, as I was press secretary for his father, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Goodell of New York. I regard him highly, but we’re not close.
The last time I saw Roger was two years ago, when I was in New York for the Great Fenway Park Writers Series luncheon and spent an hour with him in his NFL offices on Park Avenue. It was a wonderful visit, so many things remembered about his dad, both triumphs and defeats, good times and bad (there were a few), but mostly the profile in courage his father wrote in his moral stand against one of the great evils of American history, the war in Vietnam; a principled stand the Nixon White House hated and vowed to end his father’s political career, Republican or not -- and did.
The legislation his father authored to stop the war by cutting off its funding -- Senate Bill 3000 -- is framed and hangs on the wall of Roger Goodell's office. He cannot enter or exit without passing it. It is a lodestar of his life, and if you want me to believe he knew of the Ray Rice video when he says he didn’t, you need to take your “he should have known” argument elsewhere, because I find it intellectually insulting.
I do not know how this story plays out, commissioner and video, beyond knowing something terrible has happened to media in our country; because when otherwise calm and restrained men and women -- as I deem Bill Plaschke to have been calm and restrained -- join the vigilantes, we should be concerned.
But what happens if the investigation, led by Robert Mueller III, the former FBI director, into what the NFL knew and when it knew it finds incontrovertible proof the commissioner knew of the video and therefore lied to the public?
What will happen is he will be publicly disgraced and no longer commissioner of the NFL, and the sports writing frat and National Organization of Women will have their moment of vindication; while those of us who admire Roger will be disconsolate that the kid we once knew, who grew up to make us proud, had betrayed his father’s legacy.
But unlike media, who act as judge and jury and destroy reputations with impunity, the rest of us will await Mueller’s verdict -- and history’s.