Inside the Pylon, like most of the football world, has followed the DeflateGate scandal. Former attorney, and ITP Head Writer Mark Schofield has read every legal brief and news article in between breaking down film for the upcoming season. Meanwhile, editor in chief David R. McCullough has spent his offseason watching Super Bowl XLIX on a continuous loop in a Malcolm Butler jersey. Here, McCullough makes the case against Roger Goodell.
For the past year, the NFL’s biggest media “star” has been Commissioner Roger Goodell. A series of high-profile scandals have kept Goodell and the League above the fold, dominating sports news during the NBA and NHL Finals, MLB’s trade deadline and the League’s own Super Bowl. And at the center of all these scandals stands Goodell, the self-styled Sheriff of the Shield.
The power vested in the NFL Commissioner is mostly governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement; for example, the League office or commissioner announces suspensions proscribed by the CBA, like Josh Gordon. But those penalties – after years of labor negotiation – have been carefully crafted with the input of both parties and are clearly defined.
There was no Personal Conduct Policy until Roger Goodell decided there would be such a thing. Individual teams used to discipline their own employees, and owners could allow all sorts of nefarious behavior (see 1970s Oakland Raiders & Pittsburgh Steelers for detailed examples of what was allowed).
The most recent CBA gives the commissioner broad powers in handing out discipline. However, former NFLPA Executive Committee member Matt Light said on the Toucher & Rich show (21:30), ” [Goodell] would not discuss a CBA, it was a deal breaker if there was any talk of taking away his power and using a neutral arbitrator. He Goodell made it clear that the lockout would continue if we even brought it up.”
Since demanding absolute power ‒ and being given it ‒ Goodell has absolutely proven corrupt. His two game suspension of Ray Rice at the behest of Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti spectacularly backfired when the video of Rice punching his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator was unearthed by TMZ. Worse, Goodell was caught in a lie about having seen the video, destroying any credibility he had left after his punishments for Bountygate were neutered by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the courts.
His handling of Adrian Peterson’s suspension ended with a court loss. His discipline of Greg Hardy was severely reduced by an arbitrator. Several years after suspending Terrelle Pryor for an infraction committed in college, he mounted the podium to announce Jameis Winston, alleged rapist, as the League’s #1 pick. Because the hallmark of the Goodell era is the capricious and arbitrary nature of his “discipline”.
A year ago, Roger Goodell was giving out a two game suspension for Rice’s assault. Then, after failing so miserably, he announced a new policy saying the new penalty would be six games. Then he gave Hardy ten games, after Hardy missed fifteen games in 2014 on the “Commissioner’s Exempt List” while collecting his paycheck. That’s a 25-game penalty doled out by Goodell. Hardy is a terrible human being, but Goodell’s attempted discipline was excessive and unfair ‒ especially given the policy he wrote after Hardy committed his crime but before Goodell suspended him.
Basically, the guy doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing. Such wild fluctuations in discipline are detrimental to a workplace and the NFLPA, on behalf of its member players, has good reason to be concerned. Goodell’s decisions are increasingly difficult to understand or support. New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft ‒ once a staunch supporter of Goodell ‒ accused the commissioner of being an incompetent dingleberry for his handling of the Deflategate scandal.
One of Goodell’s first disciplinary challenges as Commissioner was when NFL legend Brett Favre was accused ‒ rightly ‒ of sexually harassing a team employee. The penalty for Favre – who was guilty and did not cooperate with the League investigation was $50,000. Five years later, when Tom Brady did not cooperate (in Goodell’s opinion, of course) the penalty was a four game suspension.
Goodell is arbitrarily changing the rules and punishments: The listed penalty for tampering with footballs is $25,000. He levied a million dollar fine and took away multiple draft picks from the New England Patriots, based on some shoddy science and a conspiracy theory based on the phrase “generally aware”.
Sheldon Richardson of the New York Jets was suspended in early July for a violation of the CBA Drug Policy. Yesterday, it was disclosed that Richardson allegedly racked up a host of felonies. The last player to get a DUI while already suspended, Justin Blackmon, is suspended indefinitely. Richardson probably won’t play in 2015 and 2016 is questionable.
Now, Richardson is accused of some truly heinous things. But does Roger Goodell deserve to be in charge of his fate? From here it seems that Goodell is only interested in proving how “tough” he can be with player discipline, not to mention keeping his name above the fold. That after being caught being way too lenient with Rice ‒ and lying about it ‒ he’s gone too far the other way and is handing down lengthy suspensions with little or no regard for the facts and circumstances.
This is the danger of having one all-powerful ruler; there’s no one to reign it in when things get out of control. The NFL’s owners created a monster; a man who relishes his status as the most famous person in the NFL, who nourishes it without regard for anything other than the public relations. Goodell’s record in court is abysmal, but it doesn’t matter because he’s become so adept at influencing the story.
For example, you probably know Tom Brady destroyed his cell phone. And that the NFL wanted to see text message history between the quarterback and several team employees. You know this because the NFL wanted you to know this ‒ and gave the information to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith to disseminate just hours before upholding Brady’s suspension.
The NFL already HAD Brady’s text messages to and from these team employees because they had the team employees phones. They had BOTH SIDES OF THE CONVERSATION, but chose to play up the “destroyed phone” angle because it makes Brady look guilty, and Goodell look justified.
When Bob Kraft unloaded with both barrels, it was the first shots of the battle to remove Roger Goodell as commissioner of the NFL. Jason Cole of Bleacher Report says three owners told him that a “mountain has been made out of a molehill” and the Deflategate scandal is damaging the on-field product.
Goodell’s zealousness in doling out punishments has led to his status as the most important person in the NFL. The problem with that is he’s not a player. And the NFL isn’t in the soap opera business.
Follow David on Twitter @SoSH_davemc.