Crime and Inept Punishment: Sheriff Roger Goodell Is Barney Fife Once More


Commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended Adrian Peterson from the National Football League until April 15, 2015. If NFL owners use their good business sense instead of their collective smugness, Peterson will reenter the league about the same time Goodell is leaving it.

Nothing is more dangerous to an organization than a bungler hell bent on doing the right thing, unless it’s a weak leader trying to make a show of strength. Goodell has spent the last six months qualifying on both counts. His improvisational acts of player discipline have exposed the NFL to scorn, ridicule and worst of all, possible financial damage.


One of the core elements of pro football’s prosperity is the willingness of NFL players to live with the consequences of their weak union, the NFL Players’ Association. Goodell’s work as judge and jury of player misdeeds has placed that willingness in jeopardy.

Goodell is in the moral right in the Peterson case. The Vikings running back has copped to acts of violent child abuse in the guise of parental discipline. Only society’s deep reluctance to interfere in family relations kept him out of a Texas penitentiary. If the Vikings release Peterson, they have my blessings. All decent folk should shun the guy.

In this wicked world, being right is no guarantee of a happy ending. Smarts are also required. For the second time in two highly publicized matters, Goodell has so handled matters that he and the league have been called liars. That doesn’t help anyone seize the moral high ground.

Goodell suspended Ray Rice for two games after Rice battered his fiancée. An anonymous New Jersey law enforcement official has stated that the NFL was given the videotape of the crime which proved Goodell’s sentence ludricrously lenient, directly contradicting the commissioner. The league has denied the accusation, but has yet to refute it. An NFL internal investigation is in progress. If it’s a bag job, look for further leaks from Jersey.


Peterson and the NFLPA have stated that Goodell told them both that the nine games of the 2014 season he has missed as his case went through the legal system would count as time served for any NFL punishment. Goodell says otherwise. The union is headed to court to force neutral arbitration of the case, where all parties would be under oath. Peterson, doubtless on advice of counsel, refused to cooperate with Goodell’s disciplinary process, indicating he has some confidence in his legal standing.

I can’t help suspecting that Peterson’s punishment isn’t so much about his own case as two others. Ray McDonald of the 49ers was arrested on domestic violence charges in August. The 49ers let him keep playing pending legal action. So did Goodell. No charges were filed. McDonald never missed a paycheck. Maybe he didn’t deserve to. Maybe.

Of course, no charges were filed against Rice, either, and Goodell suspended him. It’s possible this inconsistency stems from advice of counsel as well.

Last Sunday, agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency appeared at about a half dozen visiting locker rooms prior to NFL games, checking to see that any and all prescription drugs given to players were done so in accordance with the law. The investigation was in response to a lawsuit by former players alleging they were dosed up by their teams without regard for either medical ethics or law. The DEA has its flaws, but a lack of persistence isn’t one of ‘em. This direct threat to the NFL, one way beyond a mere public relations problem, will continue.


ALL problems are public relations to Roger Goodell. Two days later, Peterson is suspended. It’ll be popular today, so who cares what happens in court tomorrow. The world can see I’m in charge, baby.

Individuals and organizations which see the world solely in terms of public relations are always the worst at it. In the aftermath of the Rice fiasco, Goodell had three options for dealing with players guilty of violent crimes. He could have had the NFL collaborate with the NFLPA on a collectively bargained code of discipline. He could have let NFL teams take the lead, as the Ravens did when they released Rice.

Goodell chose option three, continue to make it up as he goes along. This is a guarantee of worsening relations with the NFLPA, legal proceedings the league might well lose and above all, further public attention to the problem he’s supposed to be solving, but isn’t.

Months and months of scandal-related publicity. The awakening of a formerly quiescent union. An unsettled lawsuit leading to a federal investigation. It’s been quite a 2014 for Goodell. It gives the Raiders a reason to feel good about themselves.

The owners continue to say they love Goodell because he’s making them more money. What future bungle will it take for them to wise up and realize that as long as one network has to be last in the ratings, the NFL will make more money no matter who’s commissioner, or even if there is one? All that can upset that golden applecart is active incompetence at the top. As the fable goes, better Commissioner Log than Commissioner Stork Goodell. His leadership insures that today’s problems will be tomorrow’s crises.

I recently reread a biography of Pete Rozelle, the commissioner who led the NFL to its status as the country’s most popular and profitable professional sport. Rozelle faced a series of crises in his tenure fare more serious than Goodell’s problems, the NFL-AFL war and merger for openers. As I read, I noted that no matter what happened, Rozelle never acted as if he had a crisis on his hands. He picked a course and stuck to it, making a point of appearing unflappable no matter how dire the situation.

Before he was elected Commissioner, Rozelle was an actual public relations man. As Commissioner, the words never passed his lips. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, spin.

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