The decision to overturn Roger Goodell’s four-game suspension on Tom Brady left us all in a twilight zone. Patriots fans pounded their chest, screamed “I told you so!”, and trashed the commissioner. The anti-Pats camp sulked, mumbling “The cheater got off on a technicality”, and trashed the commissioner. Legal experts wondered how the league botched the investigation, punishment and appeal that badly, and trashed the commissioner.
Essentially, the whole football world asked how this league is still operating – and so damn popular – with that guy at the helm. Almost exactly one year ago today the Ray Rice video was released. And since then it has been one brutal PR misstep after another.
The man at the top is (predictably) under enormous fire. We have more evidence Goodell is a bumbling stiff, unable to even execute simple punishment over a violation in which the league wanted its pound of flesh.
And that’s the key so few Commissioner’s Office Critics are ignoring. The league’s owners wanted to see the Patriots punished, and strongly punished. Goodell is the easiest pinata in sports (and that includes the paper mache donkey known as Gary Bettman). But he’s just carrying out orders.
Goodell is very obviously an empty-headed suit without any real moral compass. Therein lies the convoluted DNA of the commish. He doesn’t choose the next course of action, he merely executes it. He’s Paris Hilton being told what to do by the photographer. He’s only the driver of the NFL. The 32 owners are his GPS, and he never waivers off that route, even if that bridge in front of him is only half-finished.
He went strong after Pacman Jones because the owners wanted it (Rog, show the public we mean business!). Same with going initially light on Rice (Rog, ya know we all have some criminals on our rosters). Then heavy on Rice (Rog, show the public we mean business with domestic violence!).
No one in the league much cared the Falcons piped in crowd noise, or the Browns were sending texts down to the sidelines.
He overzealously went after the Patriots and Tom Brady because there was a mandate to do so from his owners. Bill Belichick has a reputation of finding loopholes, exploiting them, and occasioanlly rubbing your nose in it. The Pats have an owner who has given Bill carte blanche within that franchise (Belichick is GM, coach, both coordinators, and cooks the pregame meal) without many checks or balances.
It feels like there’s a TV mandate to capture Robert Kraft in his box every home game and breathlessly discuss the team’s record since he took over (Kraft is the horsepower behind all league broadcast contracts). He (was) also the well-known buddy of Goodell, a guy that helped him ascend to commish.
And the other 31 owners are sick and tired of all things Patriots. The winning. The posturing. The arrogance. The sneakiness. The whispers. The celebrity. The influence.
All of it.
So Goodell has looked like a brain-scrambled maniac with a vendetta against the Patriots, a Charles Bronson one-man vigilante. But that would mean Goodell finally stopped taking Siri’s directions, started reading a map, and used deductive reasoning. This would mean he’s acting on his own valition. And we all know he can’t do that.
He went after the Pats with a bazooka because the owners wanted him to do so. You would think the other members of the Billionaires Boys Club would be a tad agitated by overpunishment for an infraction that normally costs $25K. In this case it paid two draft picks, a 4-game suspension, and $1M, but no one spoke up. If you owned an ocean view mansion in the most beautiful neighborhood, wouldn’t you be uncomfortable with a rogue sherrif throwing one of your neighbors in jail and having their house seized for a 2 a.m. noise summons?
Not if you felt like they deserved it. And the rest of the owners did. That’s why Goodell’s not going anywhere. By any measure he butchered this from start to finish. He went over the top punishing the Pats, but also helped bury his own team’s evidence and credibility througout the process. Most people in the NFL believe the Pats were guilty of doctoring footballs. This is why there was no outrage by the other 31 owners when the Super Bowl champs were docked a 1st round draft choice for the second time in a decade in a league where picks are valued more than Steinmetz Pink Diamonds.
Goodell once again carried out the owners’ orders, albeit clumsily and stubbornly (Goodell trademarks!). The reason he’s getting flack from some of his bosses now is not because he unfairly targeted the Pats. It’s because they knew they had the goods on the Pats and he couldn’t even get that right. We gave you the directions and you still drove into the river! But he’s not going anywhere, they enjoy counting all the money they make, and having a human punching bag for the media and fans. Give Goodell this: he never fights with the bosses. The league may insert more levels of advisors, or streamline his protocols, but he’s not getting fired. Every GPS still needs the driver.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.