The NFL and the NFL Players Association are reportedly working toward a deal that would permanently bar the commissioner from having any role in levying discipline upon violating players, a decision that would be a win for everyone involved. As early as 2007, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell started to cultivate a tough-guy mantra of “protecting the shield” when it came to disciplining players for on and off-field incidents, but that should have never been his jurisdiction.
Goodell has effectively become the face of the league in its moments of crisis; the decider in its darkest moments. But time and time again, he’s made wrong, unethical or overly harsh decisions regarding player discipline, most notably with “Spygate,” “Bountygate” and Deflategate, and including individual decisions for players like Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. He’s publicly embarrassed himself and the league enough times to finally warrant change, and the NFL Players’Association is intent on negotiating one as NFL owners meet next week in Orlando, Florida.
Whatever Goodell thinks about the deal, he should hope for change. The truth is, Goodell never should’ve had such power in the first place. Goodell is not and has never been qualified to sort out matters involving domestic violence, substance abuse and organizational cheating. Goodell has an economic background, and moved up the NFL ladder by proving his business acumen as its former chief operating officer – not by playing judge and jury, as he currently does with player discipline.
Putting together a neutral three-person arbitration panel to act as hearing officers, a viable concept that The Wall Street Journal mentioned in their report Monday, would inherently put more qualified people in charge. The arbitrators would, of course, have football backgrounds, but their history as lawyers or former judges would make them suitable for case hearings.
Removing Goodell from the controversy and spotlight that he’s brought upon himself would be a welcome change for a man who’s distrusted by the public and players alike. In 2010, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu described the tension between players and Goodell’s office:
He’s got all the power. That may be part of the problem, that there needs to be some type of separation of power like our government. There should be some type of players involved in decisions over how much people should be fined or what they should be fined for, as well as coaches, as well as front office people.
Goodell’s forthcoming exile to focus on his actual job — growing the NFL’s glutinous revenue pie — is something he alluded to in September 2015, when he first mentioned the possibility of changing his role in player discipline on ESPN radio’s “Mike and Mike.” This would undoubtedly appease NFL owners who’ve become distraught with how Goodell’s fumbles have hurt the league’s image.
An NFL team senior executive told ESPN in a story published in September 2015 that some NFL owners feel that if Goodell was more competent and hadn’t embarrassed the shield so much during his fall 2014 handling of Rice and Peterson, the league would be making more money. (The NFL made $7.24 billion during the 2014-15 season.) The key takeaway: Goodell is the brains behind NFL’s money-making machinery, and that should be his sole function.
Looking ahead, a deal to cut Goodell out of player discipline would set an important precedent for future change. It’s taken nearly a decade of his follies to get to this point — once this chip falls, and the process becomes a fair and collaborative one, it may be easier for the league and the players to enact tweaks as needed.
Leaving it all up to one man can only create discord. Making discipline a democratic, inclusive process is an act of good faith that’s wholly necessary to restoring trust in Goodell’s competency. He should want this, as should we.
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