How Roger Goodell Airbrushed Jameis Winston out of the Draft Day Picture

Winston Goodell

Did Roger Goodell hold a private meeting with Jameis Winston last week so that he could avoid a public meeting with the accused rapist next month?

“Jameis Winston does not intend to attend the draft in Chicago,” MMQB’s Peter King reports. “Rather, he plans to spend the draft with his family and friends down south. At least, that’s the plan for now.”

Whose plan?

Winston doesn’t benefit from reaffirming his pariah status. Roger Goodell surely does.

The question all along has asked how the commissioner would avoid shaking hands with an accused rapist on the cover of every sports page in America. This photo-opt-out was set to occur less than a year after Goodell bungled the punishment to Ray Rice for knocking out cold his fiancée in an Atlantic City elevator. No matter that both the criminal justice system and a former Florida Supreme Court chief justice investigating on behalf of the university found the case against Winston too weak to pursue. The league suffers from women problems that neither referees throwing pink flags nor a mom explaining how her “Vikings family became a Vikings, Bengals, Eagles, Steelers, Cowboys family” can solve.

Roger wants to put his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad season behind him, and, well, smiling in front of hundreds of cameras shaking Jameis Winston’s hand works to that end about as well as playing the elevator surveillance footage on a loop interspersed with the commissioner’s soulless sloganeering at his September presser (“help create change….smack…education programs starting in the next month…smack…moving in a very important direction…”). Extracting Roger Goodell from the visual of him holding up a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey with “Winston” stitched across the back as a smiling Jameis stands next to him, rather than getting to the bottom of Deflategate or figuring out which former Los Angeles franchise moves back there, has been the conundrum that confounded the commissioner’s consiglieres since the Super Bowl.

Would the league recruit a past number-one pick to serve as an honorary MC in Goodell’s stead to announce the selection of Winston? That would be too obvious a dodge. It would serve as a story in itself. It would further solidify Goodell’s reputation as a corporate coward. Instead of removing Roger Goodell from the podium, the NFL removed the problem-child pick. Slick.

There’s no surveillance footage of Roger Goodell and Jameis Winston meeting in New York the way there is of Ray Rice and Janay Palmer fighting in New Jersey. But during their pow-wow Winston’s upcoming disappearing act surely came up. Are we supposed to believe the odd couple discussed the quarterback’s affinity for vulgar internet memes that include a word that rhymes with chuck and another name for a cat for five hours? Or his favorite crab legs recipe? The meeting wasn’t about reorienting Winston’s behavior. It was about rescuing Roger Goodell’s reputation.

The people surrounding Roger Goodell are really smart. They will tell you so. For the commissioner’s sake, he should hope that the fans watching him in Chicago, Illinois, and Jameis 650 miles away in Bessemer, Alabama, on April 30th are really that dumb.