One of the NFL’s most glittering weekends kicked off Saturday afternoon with a truly bizarro moment. As the TV camera found NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sitting outdoors at Gillette Stadium with the common folk in a “Together We Make Football” moment, Al Michaels stiffly read a statement lauding the commissioner’s integrity in the Ray Rice case.

The moment came with about a moment left in the first quarter of the game between the New England Patriots and Rice’s former team, the Baltimore Ravens. As NBC came back out of commercial, there was Goodell, chatting with his wife Jane. The camera lingered and Michaels mentioned the NFL’s Robert Mueller report investigating Goodell and the league for the handling of the incident in which Rice knocked out his then-fiancee in an elevator last February. Goodell was widely criticized for his bungling of the matter and Michaels awkwardly read a synopsis of the report.

“After interviewing every female employee, after analyzing millions of documents, emails and text messages and searching the computer and the cell phone of the commissioner, the report concluded there is no evidence that Goodell or anyone else in the league received or saw the tape [of Rice punching his then fiancee in the face] prior to it going public,” Michaels said.

Then, though, Collinsworth entered the conversation. “The decision initially to suspend Ray Rice for two games was a mistake, and the commissioner admitted that,” Collinsworth said. “But I never once in all my dealings with the commissioner doubted his integrity. And I think that came out in the report as well.”

“It did,” Michaels added.

It sounded like one of those NFL PSAs, only it was live and it diminished the integrity of Michaels and Collinsworth and NBC. (Now you know why the NFL always refers to the networks as its “broadcast partners.”)

Bill Simmons, who was suspended last fall for calling Goodell a liar and daring his ESPN bosses to suspend him, found the moment smacking of a WWE event.

It had the look of something you might have expected from state-run TV in an Eastern European country in the 1950s: Goodell as Marshall Tito, and Michaels and Collinsworth as his fawning puppet announcers.
I’m serious: Seeing the game stopped so that these two could serve as PR operatives to whitewash Goodell’s handling of the matter and burnish his image made me as angry as anything I have seen on TV this year.
What about the viewers, the fans, the “love of the game” that you guys like to talk about so much?
This was about corporate PR and kissing up to the guy who decides broadcasts rights, and don’t ever forget how the guys in the booth bowed and kissed the ring on national TV on Saturday.