Surprise, Roger Goodell’s in the spotlight again

Teams, players suffering due to heavy-handed, thick-headed league

            He’s at it again, and I’m beginning to think he’s narcissistic, idiotic, or, quite possibly, both.

            NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has once again placed himself into the middle of a controversy that has made headlines for all the wrong reasons for far too long. An embarrassing episode could be dealt with and moved beyond. Instead, a hot mess will only get worse in the summer heat.

            This week, the league fined the New England Patriots $1 million, took away the team’s first round draft pick in 2015 and fourth round draft pick in 2016 and suspended their quarterback Tom Brady for the first for games of the 2015 season for being involved in a plot to underinflate footballs in the first half of the 2014 AFC title game.

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            The Patriots, owned by Goodell’s friend Robert Kraft, balked at the league-sponsored independent investigation led by Ted Wells arguing it provided no hard evidence of wrong doing and its conclusions were based on assumptions and speculation.

            The NFL Players Association filed an appeal on Brady’s behalf asking for a neutral arbitrator, but yesterday, Goodell announced he would oversee Brady’s appeal.

            This is the same man who botched the investigation and punishment of the Saints in the “so-called” bounty scandal resulting in a yearlong suspension for head coach Sean Payton and the vilifying of Jonathan Vilma. The same tone deaf man responsible for Ray Rice’s two-game suspension for domestic violence after an Atlantic City Casino’s cameras filmed him knocking out and dragging his then fiancé (now wife) out of an elevator and Adrian Peterson’s one-game suspension for beating his four-year-old son with a tree branch. 

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            It’s a shame.

            It’s mid-May and the sports world should be focused on almost any other topic except football. The NBA is winding down to the Finals, college baseball is in conference tournament play and moving toward the College World Series, the Women’s World Cup is coming in two weeks, the Chicago Cubs are still in the pennant chase, and Tiger Woods is ruining his personal, and possibly professional, life by cheating again. But right in the middle of the offseason, what should be the quietest time of the year for the league, the dominant sports news remains on the NFL.

            This isn’t good for football. Not all news is good news.

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            The league should be celebrating the NFL Films release of their Super Bowl XLIX videos with in-depth features and behind the scenes anecdotes to color Tom Brady’s record setting sixth appearance in the championship game and joining Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks to have won four titles in the Super Bowl era and New England winning their first Super Bowl in a decade. Instead the commissioner is overseeing another headline-hogging scandal. And it’s a scandal that could and should easily be avoided. Yet, a remedy hasn’t even been mentioned thus far.

            NFL rules require game balls to be inflated to 12.5 to 13.5 pounds of pressure per square inch. An underinflated ball is softer and, supposedly, easier to throw and catch, especially in foul weather, as was the case when heavy rain fell during much of the AFC Championship game.

            Right now, game officials inspect each team’s footballs 2 hours and 15 minutes before kickoff, mark each ball that passes inspection and returns approved balls to each team for use when their offense is on the field. That gives each team roughly two hours before kickoff to handle the ball and possibly make alterations.

            The fix is simple. Allow each team to supply their own game balls, but once inspected give them to a league official to handle until the game is finished. If it means additional part-time hires for league games, so be it. The NFL is flush with cash – more than enough to ensure practices are put in place to limit potential damage to the sport.

            “Defending the shield” and “protecting the integrity of the game” have been Goodell’s signature buzz phrases since he became NFL commissioner in 2006.  But with another offseason of drama, he is adding to the most scandal-ridden administration in league history. This is a problem when it comes to the league’s credibility.

            Another investigation and punishment botched. Unfortunately, it’s becoming an annual thing.

            The league should have made the ball-handling rule change and fined the team for the milli. But for the good of the NFL it should have stopped there, and the story would have ended there.

            Now Goodell is once again in the middle of controversy, and depending on his judgment this debacle of a story will be in the news for weeks, months, maybe years to come.

            I wonder if these lingering embarrassments will ever affect Goodell or the league’s popularity and ability to make money. It’s unbelievable, really.




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