It’s not every day you can liken the commissioner of the National Football League to a pope. And since there’s nothing angelic about the NFL, you know it’s a negative comparison.
Pope John Paul II, despite some significant achievements, will forever be remembered as the pope on whose watch the priest pedophilia scandal climaxed. Only one of two things could be true: He knew of the scandals and turned a blind eye, or he was asleep at the switch, having no idea it was occurring. In other words, he was either responsible, or irresponsible. And because of that, he lost his credibility.
Likewise, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell either knew about widespread acts of domestic violence occurring throughout his league, choosing to keep the ball in play rather than call penalties, or he was the odd man out of the huddle and knew nothing — an appalling lack of awareness for a man who has made well over $100 million since 2008.
Either way, Goodell should go. Now. No more grinding it out. No more first downs. It’s time to yank Roger immediately. Prolonging the inevitable will demonize the league even more while inviting further scrutiny of its players. And given the number of stars arrested for domestic violence, the last thing the NFL needs is an instant replay of the last several weeks.
Let’s cut through the clutter of the NFL scandal and look at the major points:
1.) Several months ago, Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice was captured on video dragging his unconscious then-fiancé out of a hotel elevator. To his credit, he took responsibility for assaulting her, and was suspended for two games by Goodell. But when another video surfaced, this time of the assault itself, public pressure mounted on Goodell, forcing him to suspend Rice indefinitely. Several thoughts:
» Why the lenient penalty in the first place? Was it just another example of the Good Ol’ Boys club sitting around mahogany-paneled offices thinking a slap on the wrist would suffice, and the whole thing would disappear since, after all, the NFL is God-like in stature and all people really care about is seeing hard-hitting football games?
» Or maybe the commissioner truly didn’t think it was a big deal, and that a two-game suspension was adequate. If that’s the case, though, it would mean Goodell equates domestic violence with helmet-to-helmet hits, as that infraction merits the same two-game suspension.
In either case, such gross miscalculations would merit Goodell’s firing on the grounds of sheer stupidity, proof positive that one’s salary and title, no matter how impressive, don’t mean squat when it comes to common sense and effective leadership.
2.) There is, of course, the more likely scenario that NFL executives, including Goodell, saw the second video quite some time ago — which they continue to deny — and felt forced to act only because the video became public. Again, Goodell loses on all points:
» Law enforcement officials state they sent the video to the NFL offices, and there is no reason not to believe them. If we can stop laughing long enough to believe Goodell’s assertion that he never saw the video, the only answer is that he is presiding over an office riddled with total incompetence. Rather than a good defense, that’s a fireable offense.
» Why didn’t the NFL immediately ask law enforcement and the hotel for ALL videos from the incident? To claim it was denied such a request is ludicrous. The NFL isn’t just a multibillion-dollar enterprise, but one of the most powerful and influential institutions in the world. To say the NFL gets what it wants would be an understatement, so questioning how thoroughly Goodell’s office investigated the incident is fair game.
3) As we saw with Watergate, it’s not the crime but the cover-up that nails people. With new revelations surfacing every day, Goodell and the league look destined to repeat the same type of stupid mistakes.
Let’s be honest. The only reason Goodell has been strengthening the NFL’s policies on domestic violence and personal conduct is because he got caught with his pants down. Had the second video never come to light, and had the media and general public not demanded changes as a result of this scandal, it would be business as usual.
But this is nothing new in professional sports. Baseball’s leadership had full knowledge of widespread steroid use, yet steadfastly refused to deal with it, not even making it illegal until well into the "steroid era." Yet that didn’t stop its self-righteous executives from decrying the "evils" of steroids after the issue became front page news — conveniently after having made billions off players using them.
For decades, the NFL has been a bastion of hypocrisy, and this scandal shows that nothing’s changed. Many players have been pampered from grade school because of their athletic abilities, instilling in them a mentality that they can do as they please with no consequences, with "accountability" achieved through an agent’s carefully worded statement to the press.
Goodell knew this, yet did little or nothing to change the "rules-don’t-apply-to-me" mentality. There are many players of good character, to be sure, but too many who are not. By failing to proactively deal with them before trouble brewed, and instead of being a consistent hard-liner after the fact, Goodell endorsed the status quo. Now it bit him and he needs to face the music.
4.) While it’s wrong for the league to protect players who deserve punishment, it must also guard against punishing a player merely on the basis of accusation, without any proof. Granted, the NFL is not a court of law, but the "innocent until proven guilty" principle must always be considered.
If the NFL owners have any brains, they’d put an immediate end to this long timeout and do the right thing, punting Roger Goodell past the cheap seats and bringing in a new captain to get the league back on a winning drive.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected].