ATLANTA – On Tuesday at his annual State of the PGA Tour address at East Lake, commissioner Tim Finchem was asked about the toxic situation fellow commissioner Roger Goodell finds himself mired in.
At first, the NFL’s top man issued a two-game suspension to Ray Rice for striking his now-wife in a casino elevator earlier this year and then tacitly admitted that he blew the call when he announced a restructuring of the league’s domestic abuse policy.
On Monday, he reversed course again after “new video evidence” of the incident became available. Ever since then, things haven’t been going well for either Goodell or Rice, who was released by the Baltimore Ravens and indefinitely suspended by the NFL.
Expect the media masses to spend the next few weeks finding out what Goodell knew and when he knew it. Which brings us back to Finchem and the Tour’s long-held policy to not disclose any form of player discipline other than violations of the circuit’s performance-enhancing drug program.
To be clear, there are no comparisons between what Rice did and what Dustin Johnson, who announced in July he was taking “a leave of absence from professional golf,” may or may not have done.
Rice is guilty of domestic violence, while Johnson may have tested positive for cocaine according to a Golf.com report. Johnson may need help, but Rice is a bully.
Yet while the situations are vastly different, Finchem was asked if the current issues facing Goodell & Co. had swayed him to be a little more open when it comes to the Tour’s policy of “you can ask, but we won’t tell.”
“Saying not quite similar is probably an understatement. A little bit of an understatement,” Finchem quickly pointed out when asked about the Rice situation. Fair enough, but in context there is a lesson to be learned from the maelstrom that has beset the NFL.
If we’ve learned anything from the past 24 hours it is that Rice is a bad dude and anything less than complete disclosure can only lead to distrust and dubious decisions.
Behind a cloak of secrecy, the media and the public have a tendency to fill in the blanks for themselves. In Johnson’s case the chatter has gone to an increasingly negative place and the fallout has picked up this week at the Tour Championship – which he is not playing but will still receive $175,000 from the FedEx Cup bonus pool for finishing 30th on the point list.
That, however, has done nothing to dissuade Finchem from the current policy.
“(The NFL) took strong action in very egregious situations and they spoke about it. We're comfortable with the policies we have right now,” Finchem said.
Yet while the Tour has remained rather consistent on this, the circuit has made some high-profile exceptions when it comes to clarifying perceived suspensions, like they did in the Johnson case.
In the wake of the Golf.com story, the Tour initially declined to comment on the reported suspension, but later added that he had not been suspended and that he took a voluntary leave of absence.
It was not the first time the Tour tinkered with its own policy. In 2009, John Daly was suspended for alcohol-related issues and the circuit initially declined to comment, but later confirmed what Daly told reporters – that he was serving a six-month suspension.
“We reserve the right to comment on anything we want to comment about if we think it's important to do so,” Finchem said last month at The Barclays. “In (Johnson’s) case, we felt like the information that had floated in the media was incorrect and needed to be corrected.”
But the problem with selective sunshine is that it leaves too much to the imagination. The next time a player takes six months off to mend a mysterious injury – much like Johnson did in 2012 when Golf.com reported he served his first drug-related suspension – the default read will always go to the low-hanging fruit.
The Tour is one of the few major sports leagues to value privacy over the public trust and while Finchem didn’t care for the comparison to what Goodell is now going through, there was no denying the warning signs.
It seems highly unlikely Finchem would ever change the Tour’s policy on fines and whatnot, but when his current contract ends in 2016, and he presumably rides his golden golf cart into the TPC Sawgrass sunset, his successor should note the NFL’s current crisis.
The only thing worse than the truth is having the public find out you were trying to hide it.