NOTE: Since much of the debate is raging on Roger Goodell's "god-like" complex, he is intentionally referred to as "GODdell" throughout this piece.
Since the NFL, and more directly Roger Goddell, handed down punishment on the New Orleans Saints for “Bounty Gate,” much has been written and said about the magnitude of the penalties. (ASIDE: I believe it was Jonathan Coachman on ESPN Radio who said it, but why exactly is every public fiasco called “______________ gate?” I get that its origin is Watergate. That was the name of a hotel, it was not a “gate” that involved some deplorable water conspiracy.) Anyways, I digress. Many have claimed that Mr. Goddell was heavy handed in his punishments, particularly with respect to Sean Payton. I can neither confirm nor deny this as I was not present when Goddell and Payton met and do not otherwise have first hand knowledge of the sweet caress of the Commish. It’s an issue worth exploring: Why exactly do people believe the punishment was too harsh? First though, let’s quickly consider Goddell’s reasons before moving onto the debate.
Reason One: Player Safety
Since Goddell took over, there’s no question that player safety has been a priority of his. The NFL is far and away the most popular professional sport in the United States. I know, I know. Most thought it was the WNBA, but that’s just an ESPN led P.R. stunt. Goddell’s not an idiot (is there a Wonderlic test that NFL execs could take to hash this out though?), and he understands that big name players drive the league. He’s made it quite apparent to all involved: Hurt my players, and I’ll hurt you. Players have been fined, suspended, publically chastised, and had their family pet turned over to Michael Vick’s care for violating this rule. A program put specifically in place to harm others was clearly not going to sit well with this guy.
Reason Two: The Player’s are suing! The Players are suing!
Another proferred ($10 word there) reason for Goddell’s penalties is to help cut off pending lawsuits by former players who are now suffering memory loss and other long-term effects of their time in the NFL. I think this reason is highly overstated. Or, is it? I can’t really remember. Ever since LT clocked me while on a cocaine induced rage, my memory’s been a bit fuzzy. I think he may have solicited me for sex too, but again, I don’t really remember. Former players are claiming that the NFL was negligent about player safety, failed to fully inform them, and failed to do enough upon retirement to assist them. Really?
Do you know what football….or boxing……or MMA…….or hockey……or badminton are outside the realm of organized sports? Felonies. Well, maybe not the last one. That depends on how you interpret the word “shuttle cock.” What exactly did the players need to be told? Did they need to more directly be told that engaging in organized fisticuffs with 6’5” 300 lb. men might be hazardous to their health? In related news, smoking’s bad for you. Oh yeah, but isn’t that just it? The tobacco industry got crushed for harming the public, so will the NFL. False.
Big tobacco got killed for lying to the American public systematically for years to sell more of their product. I’m pretty sure the NFL’s done the exact opposite. Hell, they used to market videos of the NFL’s “Biggest Hits.” ESPN Sunday Night Countdown used to have a segment called “Jacked Up!” I’m pretty sure that the NFL has never ignored or hidden the violence of their sport. In fact, for years they pretty much used violence as their primary marketing tool. Oh yeah, and in the meantime, those guys they marketed got paid a whole heck of a lot of money for being the heroes and the villains of such videos. I mean, if we were talking about those little dudes that used to play for virtually nothing without pads and with a leather helmet on, I might get the point. However, the NFL each step of the way has taken steps to improve player safety. These guys chose to get into this sport. They got paid well to do so. I’m sure the NFL will eventually settle, but I’m not convinced it’ll be for as much as people think, and I certainly don’t think Goddell’s mind was just on the money when he made this decision.
Reason Three: You lied to me? You’re dead to me.
This is at the heart of the reasoning for Goddell’s actions. We might consider Reason One to be the stomach, and Reason Two to be the appendix. The Saints were told to stop. They didn’t. In fact, they took steps to cover it up, blatantly lied, and defied “God”dell. Others who have similarly defied people named God have suffered similar fates. I’m looking at you heathens of Babylon. It was the underhanded, ongoing practice that increased the risk to players on the field that led to Goddell’s actions. Wait, that sounds familiar. Oh yeah, didn’t I mention just a little while ago that what got Big Tobacco into trouble was the lying? Hmmm……..they didn’t fair so well. The Saints didn’t either. It might be appropriate to restate Goddell’s philosophy as this: “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, I’m gonna mess you the f--- up.”
So why exactly are people up in arms (I’d prefer to be packing something a little more substantial than arms) about “God”dell’s decision?
People’s Response #1: Other teams were doing it too!
Well, to that I say, if everyone else was jumping off a bridge, would you? Actually, yes, I think I would. I mean, if everyone else was jumping off a bridge, I’ve got to assume that the bridge was on fire, or that at bare minimum Tim Tebow had promised salvation to the faithful. So forget I said that. Instead, I’ll quote from the beloved movie A Christmas Story: “Adults loved to say things like that but kids knew better. We knew darn well it was always better not to get caught.”
Who ‘Dat putting bounties on the field? Da Saints! We know ‘dat. Dat’s da difference. I don’t care if other teams were doing it. They were at least doing it more discreetly. I’ll try not to use “’dat” again during this post, but no promises.
People’s Response #2: This type of punishment is unprecedented! It shocks the conscience that the Saints are the first team to lose their coach for an entire season!
Isn’t that the point of things that are “unprecedented” and “shock” us? As a general matter, it’s because they’re the first to occur. Now sure, sometimes we’re shocked when say movies like Home Alone 4 come out because they’re not the first to occur, but instead we’re stunned that it just won’t end, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.
Also, that’s the definition of “unprecedented.” It implies there’s nothing to look back to. If Goddell had given them a slap on the wrist (Wouldn’t that also be heavy handed? How else are you going to generate any power?), then people would just clamor the next time this happened that the Commish escalated punishment too severely. It’s a circular argument, and I prefer my arguments square because right angles are much more enticing.
Goddell did what he thought he had to to make his point. He prefers his points to be sharper than yours, and given the money involved, he’s got every right to do so.
People’s Response #3: But that’s just it! This one man has too much power!
Is it bad to consolidate power? Look at Russia under Stalin, Cuba under Castro. Power leads to stability. And I just got this blog flagged by the FBI. Okay, I’ll admit, power consolidation is certainly not a concept endorsed by American ideals. We like our democracies open, representative, and with a side of freedom fries. Give me freedom or give me death! Is that enough to get me off the FBI watch list? The thing is, when have we ever thought businesses needed to act as democracies? Sink or swim. Survival of the fittest. Less government involvement.
The NFL is a business first and foremost. Goddell is, for lack of a better term, the CEO. His job is to protect the product and integrity of the game, and you’re not always going to be popular to make that occur. There are few, if any, businesses where the employees have an opportunity to overrule the CEO on decisions. Why should this be different in the NFL? The players, coaches, and staff are all employees of the NFL at the end of the day (albeit very strong, athletic, and well compensated employees). If the NFL falters, then the owners will replace Goddell. It’s that simple. They are businessmen after all. I somehow doubt though that many owners who also pay their employees dump trucks filled of unmarked, non-sequential bills are all that offended that the Saints are being docked for intentionally and covertly attempting to slash the tires on all those dump trucks.
The point of all of this is agree or disagree, Goddell did what he believes is in the best interest of the NFL on the whole. He’s going to put a stop to bounty programs or escalate. It’s an archetypal war game that he’s banking on not being a game of tick-tack-toe, and only time will tell if it’ll work. So, let’s stop the scrutinizing of this decision, and move on to an enthralling game of chutes and ladders!