“The Reign of Fidel Goodell"
Published: Monday, September 10, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 22:09
You may have heard about the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal, where some Saints’ coaches and defensive players were charged for paying players bonuses for injuring opposing players. That’s a big no-no.
But was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s response appropriate? Goodell issued suspensions to current or former Saints officials and suspended four players, three coaches and the team’s general manager.
There’s an argument to be made that Goodell overstepped his boundaries, issuing punishments that did not fit the crime. In particular, the suspension of head coach Sean Payton for the full 16-game season struck some as unnecessarily harsh. The league had never before suspended a coach, not even the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick, who was found to have illegally videotaped opposing teams’ practices. The NFL has also refused to reveal the majority of its evidence in the Saints case. The Saints are not the only element of the NFL being punished by Goodell.
Perhaps you are aware that the NFL is locking out its referees. The refs—over 100 of them—have asked for higher pay. Not an outrageous demand when you consider that Major League Baseball and NBA officials make more money, and the NFL is the most profitable pro sports league in America. The owners, in contrast, want to cut the officials’ benefits.
If the NFL refs cave and go back to work at the exact same salary, the NFL will save about $62,000 per team—a “tremendous sum” in a league where nearly half the teams’ owners are billionaires.
Not only are Goodell and the NFL miserly, the replacement officials are bad. Terrible, actually. These officials are not major college refs—they are used to officiating small college football. One of them was allegedly fired by the Lingerie Football League. Everyone and their mother is criticizing them—and justifiably so.
The preseason was a veritable comedy of errors, with referees making some mind-numbingly painful mistakes, such as calling a punt down at the four-yard line a touchback, applying rules incorrectly and calling Atlanta “Arizona” twice.
I am not here to bury the replacement refs. They are in a tough spot. Nor am I intending to say that placing bounties on opponents is fine. Goodell is the one I have a problem with.
Goodell has continually trumpeted player safety. He has pushed for harsh enforcement of penalties in order to protect players. He has even changed the game in order to reduce violence. That is fine.
But issues arise when one considers that Goodell also pushed for an 18-game season, which would increased injuries. In addition, Goodell has placed more responsibility on refs to keep players safe, something that naturally becomes much harder when the regular group of trained professionals is being locked out by a number of greedy billionaires.
If replacement refs cannot even get a simple holding call right, how can they be expected to keep an eye out for players showing signs of a concussion?
And I haven’t even mentioned the worst of Goodell’s despotic depravity.
The league is currently being sued by thousands of former players in one collective lawsuit, with the players alleging that the league covered up information linking brain damage and concussions caused by play to dementia and other illnesses.
The NFL needs to get its act together. As the leader of the league, that responsibility falls on Goodell.
I used to like Goodell. He enforced the NFL’s personal conduct policy, suspending players who acted foolishly off the field. My opinion changed, however, during the lockout of 2011. Goodell supported the owners, a group of obscenely rich men who sit in their comfy suites while players destroy their bodies for entertainment. The least the league could have done is pay the players a bit more.
And it’s true he’s not the sole voice in this, as the owners have a say too. Nevertheless, as commissioner, Goodell is the most powerful man in the NFL and it is his responsibility to be fair to everyone. He has failed in that. For the NFL and Roger Goodell it is all about money.
Matt Bittle is the sports editor at The Review. Send questions, comments and a new achilles tendon for Terrell Suggs to firstname.lastname@example.org