WASHINGTON — Roger Goodell has never been fit to run a multibillion dollar enterprise undergoing as much transformative change as the NFL. But the course of events that culminated in this week’s damaging ruling in a New York courtroom prove that the league cannot afford to move forward with Goodell as its commissioner.
Let’s be perfectly clear — Thursday’s decision by Judge Richard Berman had nothing to do with what infractions Tom Brady may or may not have committed. It had everything to do with an overzealous commissioner’s farcical overreach of his power.
Deflategate is stupid. It has always been stupid. With all of the actual, awful, condemnable, shameful, deplorable, ghastly, despicable things NFL players and personnel have done in the past year or so that deserve suspensions or worse, it simply doesn’t belong in the same conversation. And yet, Goodell took the same approach to it, overextending his influence where it didn’t legally belong.
Ray Rice was only suspended two games after knocking out his fiancee, only to have Goodell suspend him indefinitely after video was leaked, a textbook definition of double jeopardy. A judge overturned that decision.
When Adrian Peterson, one of the league’s shining stars, was arrested on a charge of child abuse for hitting his son with a switch, Goodell again instituted an indefinite suspension, only to again watch an actual court of law overturn his decision.
In both of those cases, though, the court of public opinion (outside of select Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings fans) was not steadfastly in support of the players. Goodell was punishing wife-beaters and child abusers, after all.
But in his insistence in dying on Deflategate Hill, ignoring Judge Berman’s repeated encouragements to settle, insisting on twice the level of punishment for potentially altering footballs as he initially doled out for Rice’s domestic violence, Goodell lost it all. Not just this case — the third in a year — but credibility from the league in determining appropriate punishment, as it was painfully obvious that it was “legally misplaced,” as Berman wrote of Brady’s suspension.
Perhaps the most damning line of the decision came in regards to the Ted Wells investigation, upon which much of the case was based, which Berman called “independent” with quotes around it, a not-so-subtle jab at how compromised the process was throughout.
The problem moving forward is not simply the fact that Goodell has been compromised in his ability to adjudicate punishment on relatively minor, football-related matters. It’s that he no longer has any credibility when it comes to his judgment on the real crimes, the ones the NFL says it is trying so desperately hard to clean up.
Goodell’s continued incompetence on legal matters has been on display so publicly that Greg Hardy, who allegedly choked his girlfriend and threw her onto a couch full of guns, now has a legitimate legal argument to appeal his own, very warranted, already-reduced suspension after being found guilty of assaulting and threatening to kill his girlfriend.
And this is why Goodell must go. His own arbitrary, self-administered system of justice is so full of holes and lacking in process that it has opened up opportunities for players who have committed serious crimes to get away with lesser punishments. He can no longer be an effective administrator, because his credibility has been shredded by actual courts of law. None of his future decisions will go unchallenged, nor should they.
Goodell was never really ready for this job. The NFL needs a lawyer — not a professional public relations talking head — as its leader. While Goodell tried to make his name under the auspices of “protecting the shield,” he has weakened the strongest brand in sports significantly through his own ineptitude. All his talk about cleaning up the league has turned out to be just that — talk.
It’s fitting that his downfall will be over nothing but a bit of hot air.