'The NFL Beat': God Bless Commissioner Goodell
... or at least taking the brunt of the initial backlash. The public outcry that comes with such vitally necessary moves, but we will get to that.
Let's not focus on what BountyGate was, let's focus on what it is. BountyGate is a diversion. One of many.
Whether or not Saints players were paid by members of the organization to injure players on other teams is one thing. If you're asking my opinion as a person, I am not going to give it to you here.
That would be broadcasting something publicly that I have no first-hand, real-life knowledge of. I do not know whether or not Saints players were paid to do damage to the bodies of their NFL peers.
You know who does know for sure? The Saints players and the Saints coaching staff. The people who are screaming at the top of their lungs that the investigation's findings be opened for public scrutiny. The latest wave coming in the form of news regarding the still-lingering defamation suits.
Jonathan Vilma, an accused Saints linebacker whose seasonlong suspension was lifted by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue last week, thinks there is still justice to be served. He is not dropping his defamation case against the league despite his reinstatement. At this time, we are waiting to see whether a federal judge will reject Goodell's motion to dismiss the suit.
Basically, we are getting into lawyer land. Just where Goodell loves to operate. He may not have a law degree, but he's the son of a Congressman, protege of a strategic legal mind in Paul Tagliabue, and an absolute shark.
Vilma's defamation suit doesn't stand a chance. Goodell will be the first to tell you that to win a defamation suit you have to prove malice. Commissioner Tagliabue was hired by Goodell to handle the appeals process, and Tagliabue vacated punishment. He did so claiming no previous precedent for such strict penalties, and much more importantly, that Vilma did not engage in the conduct that he was accused of by Goodell.
Demonizing Goodell, but making the NFL as an entity seem anything but "malicious." Goodell appointed Tagliabue to go into the appeals proceedings and call him a liar on behalf of the NFL. He did so knowing this would kill the defamation suits via the perceived squashing of "malice."
Goodell threw every bit of legal spaghetti he could muster against the wall during BountyGate, then sent in Tagliabue to steam clean the joint.
And the owners could not love Goodell more for it. Make no mistake. The commissioner is hired, paid by, and reports to the owners. They voted him in 23-8, and we'll never know what Al Davis really thought, because he abstained from voting like he abstained from evaluating talent.
Goodell represents and strongly protects the owners' wishes. He's not a fool and he understands that public perception doesn't mean one thing in his business. The product on the field sells itself regardless of the public's view of the commissioner. The product on the field is administered, financed, and ultimately provided by the owners, however, and he has a duty to protect their interests.
This is what we need to remember as fans. NFL owners did not become NFL owners by chance. They became NFL owners by being among the most shrewd and talented of American businessmen. They understand that their 32 organizations, collectively, represent a growing $10 billion annual industry. The guy yelling about Roger Goodell at the end of the bar still owes his mom $200 because she covered his electric bill last month.
Goodell was chosen as commissioner at a time where the league may or may not have foreseen the recent rash of concussion lawsuits coming. With thousands now pending, many are tricky cases.
They involve accusations from former players with phrases like "didn't act on information," and words like "negligence." That variety of lawsuit is a much more venomous species than the garden variety "I was concussed as an NFL player and now have headaches" breed.
So what do you do as commissioner to mitigate this risk? You start throwing spaghetti. Like any good lawyer or politician would. As little as public perception matters regarding the commissioner himself, this is not the case regarding public perception of league stances on hot-button issues. The league acted swiftly, decisively, and now (as proven by what has taken place), overzealously regarding a critical player-safety issue. The league went "above and beyond" in protecting its athletes from bounties. It actually went overboard.
Setting precedents and putting up walls. More importantly, protecting the shield by establishing a documented and longitudinal history of iron-fisted protection of the brand, the owners, and the athletes they employ.
The average NFL "fan" typically has a somewhat turbulent view of most NFL players. This relationship is oftentimes agitated by a jealously fueled underlying sentiment; that these players are grossly overpaid to play the sport their mouths foam over.
It's an interesting dynamic, and a telling one. Whether negativity manifests itself regarding these players for the smaller mistakes:
"We gave you $55 million to throw 4 picks!?"
Or the bigger ones:
"You make $6 million a year, call a cab!"
Then, this fan, this typical NFL fan, in true WWE-form always sides with the players. Every time there is a dispute it's the "greedy owners'" fault. The Billionaire Boys Club at it again.
Just the kind of fan whose head exploded when Commissioner Goodell came out this week with talks about eliminating the kickoff. If that wasn't enough, maybe the talks of expanding the playoffs were enough to drive this fan insane. "Pure hypocrisy!" They scream at the NFL Network anchor reporting the news. All of the sudden, this fan's mind is somewhere else.
Exactly how Roger Goodell planned all along.
[Alex Dunlap is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and Founder of RosterWatch.]