Commentary

Brett Favre fine undercuts Goodell

Updated: December 29, 2010, 6:33 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | ESPN.com

We're accustomed to Brett Favre ending his season with an interception. This time, he may end his career with one of his most brave and on-target passes -- a bullet into double coverage that somehow evaded a catastrophic result.

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre
Kyle Terada/US PresswireThe hits have come one after another for Brett Favre this season.

On Wednesday, the NFL announced it had fined Favre $50,000 for failing to be forthright regarding the sexting scandal involving former Jets employee Jenn Sterger, whom Favre allegedly sent photos of his genitals without her consent.

The league said it couldn't determine whether the inappropriate images originated from Favre during his tenure as Jets quarterback. However, what this outcome did demonstrate is that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's tough talk about player conduct was easily defeated by Favre's iconic status.

I'm not sure what to make of Goodell after this conclusion, which doesn't exactly abate all questions. And going forward, I'm also not sure how much Goodell can be taken seriously when it comes to player conduct matters.

The NFL issued a statement that said Favre was being fined for "a failure to cooperate with the investigation in a forthcoming manner" and that Favre was "not candid in several respects during the investigation resulting in a longer review and additional negative public attention for Favre, Sterger and the NFL."

That's a very fancy way of saying that Favre lied, but we can't absolutely prove it.

If Favre misled the NFL, it seems Favre deserved more than just a $50,000 fine.

On any Sunday, a vicious hit could warrant that. So shouldn't dragging one's feet with the commissioner be taken more seriously?

Fining Favre for his lack of candor certainly puts the league's bluster over Michael Vick's duplicity in a different light.

Vick definitely deserved to be punished for his role in bankrolling a dogfighting operation, but at the time, we were led to believe that part of the reason Goodell was so harsh with Vick was that not only had he participated in something unsavory and criminal, he also had lied to the commissioner's face about his involvement.

I'm not comparing Vick's crimes to what Favre is accused of, but either lying and misleading the league isn't that big a deal anymore or Favre was given an enormous pass because the commissioner didn't have the heart to severely discipline an icon.

After promising to be tough with players who embarrass the league, Goodell faced an unfortunate litmus test with Favre's case, and the commissioner failed.

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre
Tom Dahlin/Getty ImagesBetter protection for Brett Favre: The Vikings' offensive line in 2009 or the NFL front office this season?

Although the NFL was adamant that the investigation took two months because the misconduct allegedly took place in 2008 and the league had to use forensic analysis to try to determine whether the texts were authentic, the timing of this conclusion is extraordinarily convenient. Favre, by all indications, appears to be retiring for good, and the NFL's ruling came while the statute of limitations may be closing on a workplace sexual harassment claim, according to New Jersey law. Not to mention, ruling now also gave Favre the opportunity to retire without his consecutive-games streak ending because of league discipline for the scandal.

Think of the message this sends to other NFL players, who now have a blueprint for toying with the commissioner's authority.

Think of the message this sends to the NFL's female employees, who now understand that if an NFL player behaves inappropriately with them, the NFL will be unable to prove that any wrongdoing occurred unless it's investigated by Horatio Caine.

And think of the message this sends to Favre, who not only walks away with the unique honor of having played in 297 straight games but also has the special distinction of being the only player in NFL history to prove he is bigger than the league itself.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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