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Roger Goodell vows change, but couldn't answer all critics

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NEW YORK -- There was real news to come out of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's tense press conference Friday. The personal conduct policy -- previously the exclusive domain of the commissioner's office, to the constant dismay of players who bitingly pronounced him judge, jury and executioner -- will be overhauled. That Goodell said everything is on the table, that the union and outside advisors will be involved in the reworking, suggests a significant shift from Goodell in light of recent events: He recognizes that the policy that has been the signature of his tenure is badly broken, wildly nonspecific and almost certainly contributed to the misjudgments and mishandlings that have accompanied the investigation and discipline for Ray Rice.

At some point, that move will be applauded, at least by players, because the policy will be more transparent and less capricious and, it seems likely, will invest less than total power in a single person. That is a positive step; one of a few the league has tried to take in the wake of the Rice debacle. The league will throw its support behind domestic violence and sexual assault outreach and education efforts, league employees -- all of them -- will be educated about the issues. There are now a number of women at the league office with Goodell's ear, something that has been lacking for years. Those are all good, if belated, developments to rise out of the ashes of one of the greatest crises the NFL has faced.

But on Friday, after nearly two weeks of silence as the league was thrown into tumult by the release of a video showing Rice punching his fiancée, then the indictment of Adrian Peterson, and the subsequent banishments of those two, plus Greg Hardy, Goodell stepped on his own headline. After an opening statement in which he again apologized for his own shortcomings in leading the investigation and deciding on Rice's punishment, and said there was no reason the league could not be as transparent and effective on conduct issues as they are with the games on the field, Goodell offered few specifics -- not about what he knew about Rice's behavior and when he knew it, not about why his office was unable to obtain a video that a reporter from TMZ told Goodell the website was able to get with one phone call and not about what the revised personal conduct policy might contain.

It is probably the nature of this story, of the massive disparate coverage it has received and of these types of press conferences that Goodell was unlikely to be able to please everyone. This, though, felt like a day in which almost nobody was entirely satisfied. Rice's ongoing appeal prevented Goodell from answering questions about what Rice told him in their meeting, Goodell said. So we will have to wait for the appeal to be decided and for Robert Mueller's investigation to be complete to know exactly what Rice told Goodell happened in that Atlantic City elevator and what Goodell imagined happened before he saw the video for the first time. We will have to wait for Mueller to tell us just how hard the league's own security and legal people tried to find the tape from the elevator. And we will have to wait -- perhaps until the Super Bowl -- to learn the particulars of a new personal conduct policy that is desperately needed.

To get the new conduct policy and to get to the bottom of how the Rice investigation was botched surely requires some patience. But rebuilding the credibility of the league and of its commissioner under fire demands urgency, and waiting so long to take questions, and then deflecting so many of them, only adds fuel to those who believe Goodell is not being forthcoming. And that is something Goodell will eventually have to overcome.

Goodell did repeatedly concede that there were examples of the NFL "doing wrong" and said that started with him.

"I'm not satisfied with what we did," he said at one point. "I let myself down. I let everyone else down."

I believe he means that. One person familiar with Goodell's thinking said he believes the commissioner is angry with himself for getting this so wrong. One look at Goodell and his top lieutenants, most of whom were in the Midtown hotel ballroom for the press conference, indicated the strain they are under and the exhaustion they are battling as they sort through a mess largely of their own creation. The NFL surely had help in going astray -- it was, one person familiar with the investigation said, the players union that insisted that Rice's wife accompany him to the meeting with Goodell, something Goodell admitted on Friday that he now realizes was a mistake. And another person said Friday that the Vikings did not tell the NFL ahead of time that it was going to reactivate Peterson on Monday, which then forced the team to reverse course little more than 36 hours later, contributing to the appearance of a league that can't get its act together.

On Friday, Goodell vowed the NFL would get its act together, that it would get its own house in order. But it seems clear the cleanup, and complete candor, will take some time.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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