In 2010, when Roger Goodell suspended Ben Roethlisberger, there were a few rumblings. In 2011, when the NFL owners locked out NFLPA members, there were a few more. Now that the league is in the midst of a labor dispute with the referee’s union, the rumblings have become a full-throated roar. The man we were told was stern but fair, who would do whatever it takes to preserve the integrity of the game and the reputation of the league, who would carry the NFL forward in the digital age and into unprecedented markets in the farthest corners of the world, does not exist. The man who sits at the head of the table for the most prosperous professional sports league in the world is a hollow, empty suit.
When Goodell addressed the rookie symposium in 2010 in the wake of the Roethlisberger scandal, he told the media afterward that he had been charged with a solemn duty: protect the league.
“But I did talk about what I call protecting the shield. My job is to protect the integrity of the NFL and to make sure the game is as safe as possible.”
Protecting the shield. Roger would’ve made a great politician. Grandiose verbiage that plays great in a soundbite on the news, but doesn’t amount to anything of substance. Let’s talk about that last part, though. Integrity of the NFL and making the game safe.
Through his dictatorial method of doling out discipline to players for on field actions, Goodell has made a good show of being concerned for the well being and safety of NFL players. Of course, if he were truly serious about illegal hits, and creating deterrents to those actions, he’d codify the punishments, and let everyone everywhere know just what was at stake if they dared to go headhunting. Instead, he’s sought more personal attention for himself through highly publicized meetings with players, fines, and suspensions. The best example of this is the seemingly never ending Bountygate scandal. After players who had been suspended for their role in the scandal had their suspensions overturned, Goodell set about finding other ways to suspend them. Magically, an affidavit from former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams appeared that corroborates Goodell’s version of the events in New Orleans. The suspended players were willing to admit some culpability in the affair, but not enough for Goodell’s liking, whether he had evidence to prove it or not. Again, codified discipline measures could help alleviate this issue, but nobody seems particularly interested. Bounty bad. Protect the shield good.
As for the integrity of the actual product, professional football games, Goodell’s mission to protect it above all else has, through two weeks of this season, been an abject failure. All one had to do was watch any four or five play stretch in last night’s Falcons-Broncos game to see that the replacement officials (sorry, can’t quite bring myself to use the league mandated “current officials” euphemism) are directly affecting the outcome of NFL games due to their incompetence. It’s not as if the calls being made or missed are overly complicated, either. Letter of the law, black and white things are being missed. The replacement refs have yet to get an unnecessary roughness call on a sliding QB correct. Last night, they twice missed calls on an offensive lineman on crucial 4th downs concerning penalties that had previously been points of emphasis, so much so that the league had circulated memos regarding them. It’s unconscionable. And it’s completely avoidable. For Roger Goodell, integrity is nothing more than a buzzword. Something that sounds good on the 6:00 p.m. SportsCenter.
Since Roger Goodell has taken the role of commissioner of the NFL, we’ve all been a little off in our evaluation. Roger Goodell didn’t build the NFL into the juggernaut that it is today. He didn’t create the environment wherein his product would generate gargantuan television contracts. He couldn’t even handle the launch of an in-house network without bickering with cable providers over carriage fees. Goodell is the epitome of the man who was born on third base, but thought he hit a triple. For quite some time, a lot of people had the same thought he did. It’s become increasingly apparent, however, that the NFL continues to be a successful concern and a financial juggernaut in spite of, not due to, Roger Goodell.