September 24, 2014 Brien Straw

The Great Distraction







SEPTEMBER 24, 2014

He’s a clown. An untrained monkey could do his job. He’s the most incompetent CEO in the business world. The worst commissioner in the history of sports. Those are the descriptions most often applied to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. As domestic violence and the mishandling of the Ray Rice case lead the headlines, Goodell is now often considered the buffoon that has ruined the league’s public perception and is clearly a liability to the league’s success and must be replaced.

He’s got ‘em all fooled.

Truth is, Goodell is probably the best commissioner in sports today when you consider he is truly most successful at accomplishing the goals of those that employ him - the 32 NFL owners. Goodell has stood in front of the bus of negative publicity and public outcry that SHOULD HAVE been directed at the owners so many times, there have got to be tire tracks tattooed on his back.

Put his performance into perspective in this manner: 32 billionaires - who while they don’t always look to be the sharpest knives in the drawer regarding the management of their respective football teams - are with limited exceptions smart enough to become billionaires. They pay Goodell in the neighborhood of $40-million a year to run their league. Do you really think they’d pay that kind of money if a functional illiterate could handle the job? Remember Mike Ditka's famous line (that got him run out of Chicago originally) about former owner George Halas being so cheap he tossed nickels around like they were manhole covers. That was then you say? Tell that to the cheerleaders who can't earn minimum wage from these same owners that pay Goodell's salary.

What everyone is missing, is that Roger is getting all that scratch because he’s outstanding at doing the job THEY’VE  hired him to do, in the manner they WANT him to do it.

Last Friday Goodell faced the media, took all the shots about mishandling the Rice situation, and accomplished little more in the public’s perception than to consider him even more incompetent, not an easy task when the bar was already so low. Within hours, ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” released a story detailing the Ravens handling of the case. 

In the article it paints Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome as the parties truly responsible for the complete f-up of Rice’s uppercut knockout of then fiancé, now current wife Janay Palmer. Once we became aware of the Valentine’s elevator massacre we immediately sharpened our pitchforks and waited breathlessly for Goodell’s response. When TMZ released a video of Rice dragging the KO’d Palmer from the elevator, we headed down to the hardware store for torches and gasoline. When Goodell finally announced the meager two-game suspension it was light the torches and grab the pitchforks time. When TMZ released the video of what occurred inside the elevator, we stormed the castle in Game of Thrones” style. We all wanted Roger Goodell’s head atop a stake.

How much of our frustration over the mishandling of this situation was directed at the Ravens front office? How much at the “incompetent” Goodell. If you’re Goodell’s boss - as Bisciotti and 31 other owners are - whom would you prefer suffer the slings and arrows of the angry mob, the guy you’ve paid millions to take the hits or yourself? If we in the media and public had known all along the lengths to which the Ravens leaders went to protect the public face of their franchise player (see: Ray Rice), what would that have cost the organization financially and publicly in Baltimore? Would Newsome or Cass still have a job? Would Bisciotti be respected in the same manner Cleveland reveres Art Moddell - the man who moved the Browns to Baltimore to become the Ravens?

For months we’ve been unable to believe a commissioner that carried such a massive sword when it came to discipline (see: Saints bountygate), had not have seen the elevator video. Perhaps it's because that’s what the Ravens owner, and golfing buddy Bicsiotti wanted?

Roger Goodell is the person today that is taking the heat for being soft on domestic violence, not the owner of the Ravens. I’m truly confounded at how many people that consider themselves to be so intelligent, have been completely duped into believing Goodell is “an idiot” and at fault rather than Bicsiotti. How could someone making thousands a year question the intelligence of a man, employed by billionaires making millions because he took the bullet that clearly should’ve been aimed at his boss (Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti)?

Has anyone given any thought to the possibility that it was the owners that wanted Goodell to be, “Judge, Jury & Executioner?” As we look at Goodell’s “track record of failure” let’s do so with how his mishandled decisions affected his superiors.

*  Spygate - 2007. The Patriots are caught videotaping New York Jets defensive signals during a game from a sideline location. Goodell fines Pats coach Bill Belichick $500,000, the team another $25,000 and takes away their first-round pick in 2008. Whether the punishment meets the crime is not the issue, that Goodell destroyed the tapes is. What a maroon. Or, what a great job of taking blame for mishandling the evidence (a la the Warren commission) so as to protect close friend and ally Robert Kraft? Think Kraft has a problem with how Goodell handled the situation? Has the Pats owner ever taken the potshots that Roger has regarding the incident?

*  Goodell goes before Congress to discuss head injuries in football - 2009. Goodell acknowledges a “connection” between head injuries on the football field and later brain diseases, but defends league policy. He’s soon raked over the media coals for lying to Congress. Alongside Goodell that October day in 2009 is Players Association leader DeMaurice Smith who says, “the union has not done it’s best in this area. We’ll do better.” That the union whose sole purpose is to protect and fight for its employees rights admits fault but garners no outrage. No blame for the owners - who saw the same evidence Goodell did - yet said or did nothing, and certainly don’t blame the union which is in place to protect the players and also knew of the peril. 

No doubt, as late as 2009 - under Goodell’s watch - the NFL was still sticking to its story that it was convinced there was no link between head injuries while playing and brain damage among players in retirement. In fact, Ann McKee, professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University and co-director of BU’s center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) was convinced the league was in a “state of denial.” 

What’s interesting in its absence to me, is any fault or blame to the wonderful, caring Steelers owner Art Rooney, who offered little if any assistance to Hall of Fame center Mike Webster who died in 2002 as a result of brain damage caused by head injuries suffered while playing in Pittsburgh. While the media clubbed Goodell like a seal for his performance before Congress, nobody turned a spotlight on Paul Tagliabue, commissioner in 2004 when the league formed a “Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee (MTBI) that fired off report after report calling any link between head injuries and brain damage, “a complete misunderstanding of relevant medical literature” and “inadequate clinical evidence on the condition.”

It’s just too easy to blame Goodell rather than go after those truly culpable.

*  Goodell is too harsh in his punishment of Ben Roethlisberger - 2010. Following a sexual assault suit in Lake Tahoe in 2009, and an investigation of sexual assault in 2010 Goodell suspends the Steelers QB for six games - later reduced to four - despite no convictions. How could he be so heavy-handed?!! Perhaps, just maybe, because his good pal Art Rooney wanted to send a message to his franchise QB?

*  Goodell sees no issue with the nickname “Redskins” - 2013/2014. While Goodell has not been able to completely take every bullet deservedly aimed at Washington owner Daniel Synder, he has jumped in front of as many as he can. We call that incompetence, his bosses (see: OWNERS) call that deflecting criticism deservedly aimed at them.

Perhaps the biggest misconception about Goodell is the “any trained monkey” could negotiate great TV deals and keep the money flowing into the NFL coffers, Roger’s just a guy in the right place at the right time. Again, his 32 billionaire bosses see things otherwise. That reason is simple, no commissioner has ever outpaced the economy in generating money for his league the way Goodell has. He has also kept the screws to the union on his watch with owners pretty much “owning” the negotiating table when going against the union.

You know what else the blockhead has also managed to do - unlike his predecessor - keep teams where they belong while gouging local communities for sweet stadium deals at the low, low cost of hosting a Super Bowl.

In the 17 years Tagliabue ran the league, St. Louis lost the Cardinals, LA lost the Rams, LA lost the Raiders, Houston lost the Oilers and Cleveland lost the Browns. (To be fair, at present only Los Angeles is without a team.) During Tags 17 year run as commish, 17 new stadiums opened - two because teams in a new city needed a place to play (Nashville, Charlotte) - five to attract teams back to an NFL city (Houston, Cleveland, Baltimore, Phoenix, St. Louis). One could argue nine teams managed new stadiums - without leaving home - in 17 years. Under Goodell, in eight years seven teams have gotten new homes, without a single relocation. How do you think the owners feel about that.

As fans and media we seem to be under some huge misconception that Goodell serves at the pleasure of the fans and media (a public relations fallacy that may ultimately cost him his job), when in fact he serves at the pleasure of 32 owners who are deservedly very happy with his performance. He's stood in front of every political nightmare bus that should’ve rammed straight into the owners, while setting record television deals and is an LA stadium away from some team opening a new (even greater) revenue generating stadium every year.