Congratulations to the owners of the 32 National Football League Franchises and the Players’ Association for finally ending the lockout and agreeing to a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement. While the ink begins to dry there is still one thing that is abundantly clear. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell needed this as badly as anyone and for numerous reasons. Goodell became commissioner in 2006 following the tenure of Commissioner Paul Tagliabue who retired. To say that Goodell’s tenure has been rough is like saying the Titanic ‘nudged’ the iceberg. While he can stand victoriously with fellow owners and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, the fact remains that he just presided over the longest stoppage in the history of the National Football League.
He will benefit greatly from the fact that nothing of real importance was lost during the lockout except for the Hall-of-Fame Game and in the end; he will probably be seen as a victor in these negotiations. Unfortunately for Goodell, there are now some very important other issues that loom over what is now clearly “America’s National Pastime.” The majority of players don’t like Goodell. Some for reasons of a pedestrian nature while others have serious questions about the man’s honest-to-goodness intentions. Is the fact that Goodell never played college or pro ball a reason to dislike him? In my opinion no, but then again, I’m not popping painkillers and strapping on the pads from August through January either so I understand the players’ feelings on that. They would appreciate a guy who has been in the trenches the way they are week-to-week. Is it wrong to have your boss be able to relate to what it is you do on a daily basis? Imagine the Commish showing up on CBS’ “Undercover Boss” and getting out on the field with some pro football players. You want to talk about “must-see TV” then there you go!
Goodell’s biggest fault came last season when he and his cohorts in New York over-reacted to a very punishing weekend of professional football and started to lay down new rules for players to follow in the name of ‘safety’ and ‘protecting’ players. New rules, procedures whatever you want to call them are fine when you make those changes in the off-season when players, coaches, and officials can take the time to learn them and adapt to them. Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave formerly occupied by the late Osama bin Laden, you know that Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison, who was suspect number one of that bone-jarring weekend, was very clear in his dislike of the commissioner in a recent Men’s Journal piece. While I don’t condone the name-calling and personal attack that Harrison launched, I do agree with his feelings towards just what the commissioner is going for here. The one group the Goodell really threw under the bus was his officials who had to change on the fly like the players did. This was never more evident then when Harrison hit the Bills’ Ryan Fitzpatrick on what appeared to be a textbook tackle with his face leading right into the quarterback’s chest. Replays showed the official clearly reaching for the flag before the combatants even hit the turf. This is the epicenter of Harrison’s issues.
When Goodell traveled to 8 training camps last season to address the players about the upcoming labor situation, this move was intended to be an “I’m with you and I understand” type of play, but it backfired. Redskins’ linebacker London Fletcher said the goal was to provide answers to their questions and Goodell, “didn’t have them,” said Fletcher. His teammate, Deangelo Hall, called the meeting “a waste of time” saying Goodell “couldn’t answer anything.” These were just a couple of the comments that followed Goodell’s tour last summer.
With word out earlier today that the NFL will be able to punish players for transgressions during the lockout, Commissioner Goodell will once again be under the microscope. Not only will he have to address the Harrison article, but also several arrests for numerous crimes. I honestly feel that Goodell wants the best for the game, but I fear the owners have him right where they like him. Money is the driving force behind much of professional sports today and Goodell is the perfect puppet for the owners to manipulate. Not only does a less physical game create more healthy players, it also creates more offense and more points which more of the ‘newer’ owners like to see. They believe this means more gate, i.e. more money. Toss in the fact that Goodell has spoken openly about the possibility of opening a franchise or two in Europe and dollar signs just drip from the mouths of NFL owners. The late NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle piloted the NFL through some amazing achievements and can easily be credited with pushing the game to it’s status as the big cheese of professional sports in America. Goodell needs to just assume the helm and not try to create his own path. It’s already there Mr. Commissioner, just follow it and stop rocking the boat.
Marc 'SteelDad' Uhlmann