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For as long as I can remember, figureheads in sports have been looked at with disdain and distrust. I suppose that’s to be expected seeing as the general public has largely mistrusted any authority figure since the Watergate scandal. Why should sports leaders be any different? What’s most surprising is that, with the exception of the NBA who has fielded two great (if flawed) commissioners, the rest of those in charge of our major sports have earned the public’s ire. MLB commissioner Bud Selig has at times appeared to be asleep on the job, especially when baseball was run a muck with steroid issues a decade ago. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman comes across as nothing more than a tyrannical weasel. And NASCAR figureheads Mike Helton and the France family are so inept with their every day decision-making that some people believe the sport is fixed. Above all else though, what all three entities have in common is that they appear to have lost touch with their fan bases for a variety of reasons, something that has led to them losing ground in popularity or in NASCAR’s case a failure to gain ground. Having watched all these men run their collective sports into the ground for years on end, I never thought I’d see someone top them.
Enter Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL and a man who in the last seven months has made his counterparts look like Rhode Scholars. Yes it may seem like it only took a week for the son of former Senator Charles Goodell to make a fool of himself, but in fact he’s been doing that since February, from the moment former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragged his unconscious fiancé (now wife) Janay Palmer out of an Atlantic City casino elevator. Whether it’s the shoddy investigation, the unbelievably light initial two game suspension, the constant backtracking or the release of disturbing elevator video that may or may not have been seen by NFL officials (among other things mind you), the NFL has watched this turn into their own private version of Ishtar. Goodell has handled this situation so badly that the best case scenario here is that he’s an incompetent power monger who simply has/had no idea what to do in a situation that involves domestic violence. I shudder to even think about what the worst case scenario means, the one where Goodell saw the Rice tape before this week and did nothing about it. Either way, Goodell has done the impossible; he’s made everyone else in the commissioner fraternity, which is again not exactly filled with the brightest sports minds, look like gentlemen of industry. He has become an unholy cross of Richard Nixon and the Parks and Recreation character Councilmen Dexhart; I keep waiting for Goodell to spout out Dexhart’s “I have no plans to resign” phrase whenever he speaks.
And that becomes the question now. All week, everyone from ESPN to the cashier at your local convenience store has been asking the question; should Roger Goodell resign or be fired from his position? The answer is a resounding yes, but not just because he’s bungled the last week on the job. Yes, Goodell’s mishandling of this Ray Rice scenario is a setback the NFL has never experienced before, and regardless of what happens next it’s hard to trust Goodell ever doing better in a similar situation moving forward. Make no mistake, Goodell must go, but a closer look reveals this is more the final straw then the one that broke the camel’s back. The fact is Roger Goodell has been an awful commissioner for the NFL during the majority of his eight year reign, with the exception of a strong start where he handed out strong penalties to players Adam “Pacman” Jones, Chris Henry, Michael Vick and Tank Johnson for numerous off field indiscretions. That handing out those suspensions, ones that were obvious in the wake of the alleged crimes those players committed, would become the strongest point of Goodell’s reign is mind boggling eight years later. That he got them right is even more so.
Since that initial year stretch, Goodell has pretty much torched his legacy like it was a scene in Backdraft. There was the New England Patriots Spygate incident, which resulted in not just a soft penalty for the Patriots (they were fined and lost a first round draft pick which did nothing as the Patriots had another pick anyway), but Goodell destroying the evidence afterwards, a suspicious act regardless if there was anything incriminating or not. There was/is a massive concussion lawsuit filed by former players that has revealed the NFL likely knew about the aftereffects of concussions long before they attempted to make football safer in recent years. There was the pointless 2010 NFL lockout, which revealed Goodell to be largely a puppet for the NFL owners (more on that in a moment). There was the 2012 referee lockout, an even more unnecessary situation that resulted in the NFL’s replacement refs tarnishing the first half of the season. And last but certainly not least, there was Bountygate, a scandal where Goodell punished several coaches and players of the New Orleans Saints for running a bounty program, only for it to be revealed that the players Goodell punished had little or nothing to do with it.
A couple of errors along the way are to be expected for any sports commissioner; even the best like the NBA’s David Stern made several misjudgments over his esteemed career. But for Goodell to have six major missteps in eight years? It’s unforgivable for one reason and one reason alone; regardless of whether you are corrupt or not, these incidents and the failure to effectively deal with them creates the perception that you are. This is the problem NASCAR’s leaders have had for the past decade; it’s almost certain that Mike Helton and the France Family aren’t conspiring to fix their sport, but the consistent bungling of crucial decisions has led to most people believing the possibility. And once that perception takes over, the truth becomes secondary. The failures of Roger Goodell in the past eight years (and especially this week) have led to the perception that the NFL is an organization that cares about money more than the fans and the numerous issues plaguing the sport (like domestic abuse). For that, and that alone, the so called “most powerful man in sports” must go, if for no other reason to change the perception the public has about the NFL.
And yet, I doubt you will hear the words “I resign” or “We are relieving Roger Goodell of his position as commissioner of the National Football League” ever uttered by Goodell or the NFL owners. The truth is that the majority of the 32 owners love Goodell; under him their bottom line has increased tremendously and they have gained a stranglehold over the players in regards to Collective Bargaining. It doesn’t matter that Goodell hasn’t seemed to care for the players or the fans, the two most important pieces of the NFL, it simply matters that he makes the owners money. Thus, barring a member of the sports media getting evidence that Goodell watched the tape of Rice beating his fiancé, Goodell will be exonerated by the findings of the private investigation former FBI director Robert Mueller is currently running (an investigation being overlooked by two owners who support Goodell and run by a man whose currently employer works for the NFL regularly mind you), the owners will keep him on and Goodell will continue to bungle decisions until he decides either to a) retire or b) follow in his father’s footsteps and run for office. Sadly, he’s not going anywhere barring a miracle.
So what does that mean for us, the fans of football and sports in general? What does it mean for the sport? Well for me, it’s the last straw. I had no intention of watching any NFL games this season prior to this past week; numerous issues from Goodell’s follies to product suffocation had driven me away from a game I loved for most of my life. This incident has merely confirmed that was the right decision for me. I cannot support a league that doesn’t care for its fans, its players or anything that doesn’t involve a profit. Whether the rest of the fans, players or even aspiring players of the NFL want to do the same is entirely up to them. Perhaps that’s the miracle needed to lead Goodell to his worthy dismissal. Only time will tell. For me though, Roger Goodell has done something that I never thought any commissioner would ever do regardless of how bad he was. He has helped destroy any ability in me to like a sport. I guess that’s an accomplishment right?