That’s the one-word explanation for how the NFL’s leadership continues to wrap itself around the axle of Deflategate. These people have confused popularity with infallibility. They have conflated business success with righteousness. And, aside from the continuing issue of player health, leadership has become the biggest threat to the integrity of the game, not some lame-ass stunt involving deflation of footballs.
That is, if the term integrity includes ideas such as fairness, due process, proportionality and cooperation (in this case, with the union). If those concepts don’t apply in the NFL, then every player who is suspended or fined under the NFL’s personal conduct policy should follow Patriots QB Tom Brady’s path into federal court.
That is where Thursday a judge, not Patriots fans, sportswriters or the union, told the NFL — explicitly, embarrassingly and globally — that its leadership is out of control.
(The 40-page ruling can be found here.)
I use the term NFL leadership rather than just commissioner Roger Goodell, because within the hour that judge Richard Berman’s decision was announced, Goodell’s office announced it would appeal. That means that none among the battalion of lawyers, executives and staffers who run the league has the standing, courage or intellect to tell Goodell to stop the foolishness now.
It can be argued that it was already too late the day that Goodell announced he would be the arbitrator of Brady’s appeal of the four-game suspension on the results of the Wells investigation into deflation claims. Even national elections in China aren’t that rigged.
Perhaps it was already too late when Goodell’s ruling on the appeal explained its denial by featuring the fact that Brady destroyed his cell phone and its text messages to hide evidence.
Apparently, the hope was that the disclosure was sensational enough to make Brady seem guilty, so that he would quit the fight, and also distract fans from the failure of the NFL to follow procedures for suspensions as outlined in the collective bargaining agreement.
The strategic naivete is positively Rumsfeldian.
But now, the stubbornness shown by Goodell in the face of judicial logic — Berman did not rule on the facts of the deflation claims but on the absence of agreed-upon process — as well as national ridicule, becomes an even stronger indictment of his failure to provide competent leadership for his declared jihad on player misconduct.
It is Goodell who is the the bad actor here — the headhunter, the showboater, the abuser of himself and others, the very traits he has attempted to expunge from player behavior.
None of this should excuse Brady, who despite his denials of active involvement, did order the footballs doctored — based on the texts from the lower-rung Pats perps — then worsened matters by lying.
Had he said his instructions were misconstrued but owned up to responsibility, he likely would have paid a fine for altering game equipment and the sports world would have been spared his cartoon sketch by a courtroom artist that scared small children. Goodell’s failure at each step in the drama likely continues now with the appeal, which might linger into into 2016.
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Berman’s decision further stains Goodell’s already dubious history of punishments overturned.
In 2012, his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, had to be called from retirement to unwind the mess Goodell made of the New Orleans Saints’ “Bountygate” scandal, vacating the suspensions because Goodell overreached. Same thing last year with the year-long suspension of Ravens RB Ray Rice for striking his then-fiancee.
Goodell’s repeated episodes of coloring outside the lines may be thrilling for a child, but for a guy paid $40 million annually to keep everything within the lines, his decision-making has to be considered atrocious.
The NFL and all of football has a steadily boiling threat to its future because of enormous attention now paid to head trauma. All hands need to be on deck, particularly in view of the December release of the Will Smith feature “Concussion,” whose trailer has already generated controversy. Sony Pictures is in hot water for purportedly caving to pressure from the NFL to sanitize the script. Whether it’s true, the NFL desperately needs a more enlightened approach than merely throwing money and lawyers at the problem.
It doesn’t need a commissioner in self-destruct mode, going the full Nero.
Now that he has made an enemy of his former friend and ally, Pats owner Robert Kraft, and has bollixed his main mission as “the conduct commissioner” just in time to overshadow the regular season opener, Goodell’s tenure needs to end.
It is easy to say that the NFL is so popular that no scandals or controversies threaten its hegemony. But never underestimate the power of hubris to rot an institution from within.
Based on the evidence I thought Brady would get a steep fine and that’s it. However also based on what Sean Peyton got for Bountygate I thought an extensive suspension was possible. I’m curious as to why the locker room attendants who’s texts were fairly incriminating were never called on to testify. And I’d think being in federal court the NFL could have had their bank records subpoenaed to see if they received any sort of payment for their actions. Same with Brady bank records and maybe the Patriots payroll records. Even Gisele’s cell phone records. Seems to me the owners as a whole wanted Goodell to drop the hammer on the Patriots because of their history of bending the rules during the Belichick era and it backfired. I don’t see how he can stay in office. Thanks to this ruling his authority is gone. The judge rendered the agreement from the last labor negotiation that the office of the commissioner can decide on discipline useless. Goodell is the new Fay Vincent at this point.
I’m not even sure any rules put in place on ball care before a game really matter now. Some players will argue they aren’t needed and it’s been shown now the League has no real authority over players. I imagine the year long suspension of Josh Gordon will soon be rescinded as well. Possibly Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice will apply to be reimbursed for lost salary. Aaron Hernandez should have hired Brady’s lawyer. How soon before OJ returns?
And reports suggest that Greg Hardy is considering a court appeal of his own suspension. Yeesh.
I understand Goodell was a lawyer before he joined the NFL front office. If he was a prosecutor, his track record must’ve been downright ugly, based on his NFL work.
Yeah, he got his “shirt” handed to him. He needs to just step back this season and let the disciplinary committee(if there is one. If not, MAKE ONE) do most of the talking. He should just be “going along with the committee’s recommendations”
OK, the NFL, I get it, lots of money, lots popularity … none the less it’s just another entertainment. The hyperbole and minutia about Brady and the Commish is astounding… take a breath, read the BBC or some other creditable news source, then measure this NFL soap opera against those news stories.
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the BBC credible? Ya about as credible as NPR or PBS or msnbc only if you are a liberal/socialist do you think any of these are credible. No such thing as credible media anymore they all have their own political agendas and report only the news which supports that agenda
Truly awful human being.
Not going to be at the opener? Let’s add coward to the list.
Excellent article, Art, I just want to revisit your line: “Brady, who despite his denials of active involvement, did order the
footballs doctored — based on the texts from the lower-rung Pats perps” Certainly those texts appeared as damning evidence. So why weren’t those equipment guys legally deposed? That would have been hard evidence to a judge instead of the passive innuendo offered in the NFL’s amazingly weak statements. Did Goddell think he’d become so all-powerful he didn’t have to present a complete case to render punishment? Thing is, anyone this side
Yes goodell is an arrogant arse but he’s not likely doing anything his bosses the owners didn’t want him to do. And the judges ruling did NOT exonerate pretty boy and the patsies from cheating and then trying to cover it up. This was never about the balls it was and is about their willingness to cheat if they feel they can get away with it