Thursday, July 14, 2011

NFL Lockout: Why Roger Goodell Could Be the Next David Stern

By now, most fans are about as fed up with flipping their televisions and Internet on to see more news about the current NFL lockout as much or more as the past three years of the Brett Favre saga.  It seems as though the owners and players union are close to an agreement, so instead of writing an article about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's impact on the lockout, I wanted to bring to light some alarming trends that are coming to fruition in regards to Goodell's fingerprints on the future of the league.

Who is Roger Goodell? 

That is a question that most fans around the country should ask not only of him, but of every commissioner in major professional sports.  A quick Wikipedia check details Goodell as "the most powerful man in sports," according to many commentators.  I say that most fans should not know about professional commissioners due to my belief that a commissioner's job is to be outside of the spotlight and to enhance the game without affecting its core strengths, nor to leave a legacy that changes the game in any way that reflects the commissioner himself or herself.

If the prior statement made is one that is somewhat agreed upon by fans, players and owners themselves, then Goodell is an absolute failure as a commissioner. 

Goodell, the son of late U.S. Senator Charles E. Goodell, has thrust himself into the forefront of public visibility by treating the position almost as if he were a politician himself.  The first example of this was his implementation of a new NFL Personal Conduct Policy in 2007, after an offseason that saw several NFL players involved in legal and moral scandals that dominated the sporting world's media.

To fully examine the issue of the policy, one has to come to the realization that the social media and the availability of that media has changed not only the landscape of the sporting world, but also of the entire world in general.  Ten years ago, there might have been a mention on SportsCenter or on your local news of an athlete being arrested.  Today, there are constant barrages from different websites, cell phone apps and a much larger variety of available television programming. 

In a country that has been racked with the burden of our downward-spiraling economy, sports have become an outlet for Americans in a way never seen before. 

No longer does it require a fan to purchase a ticket to an event to get an almost full experience due to the availability and advancement of technology.  Gone are the rabbit ears, the transistor radio, the weekly sports talk show and large-selling newspaper and magazine subscriptions.  We have welcomed in their place high-definition television, 24-hour sports programming, satellite and digital cable options, live streaming and forums such as Bleacher Report that offer fans feedback in a way unheard of only a decade ago.

That all being said, Goodell took an approach to the conduct policy as if those changes hadn't affected the public's ability to judge off-field behavior.  He took a hard-lined approach to what he deemed unacceptable behavior and decided that he would "teach these players a lesson," so to speak, on his own accord.  While I certainly do not condone much of the behavior that has taken place, Goodell's policy left little or no room for interpretation on anyone's terms but his own.

Goodell's reaction to the 2007 offseason conduct seems, in hindsight, a knee-jerk reaction to the scandal involving Michael Vick.  Vick's federal charges of animal cruelty, among other dog-fighting charges, sent shock-waves throughout the country and magnified the behavior of all the NFL players to the general public.  Goodell chose to make examples out of some of these men in order to, I believe, rectify the sudden public dismay of the NFL and the "thugs" that many non-sports fans believed the players to be.

Some of Goodell's intentions were probably good for the league, without question.  What is disturbing is that over time it has appeared that Goodell's intentions were not as much intended for the betterment of the sport, but as for somewhat of a self-serving nature to his own legacy and appearance. 

This writer believes that a tremendous blame for the unfolding of Goodell's abuse of power lies directly at the hands of NFL owners. 

A major professional sporting league such as the NFL should without question be commissioned by a person/committee that is elected or appointed at the hands of both the owners and players union.  To elect or appoint a commissioner based only on the desires of the owners stands to not only cause fraction between the two sides, but also places undue power in the hands of a commissioner that answers only to one-half of the equation.

Goodell has recently drawn a tremendous amount of criticism from players and fans alike in regard to his increasingly strict policies on player "safety" concerns. 

Many players, including Troy Polamalu and the recently maligned James Harrison of the Steelers, have voiced a distaste for Goodell and intimated it was due to his assuming too much control and power over punishment towards players and was, according to them, making wrong decisions. One can only question what Goodell's true motives are for the momentum he has continued to gain toward player fines and suspensions due to controversial hits during the 2010 NFL season.

It stands to reason that we call a duck a duck in this instance.  Goodell is placed in his position and empowered by owners.  Those same owners stand to gain substantially higher revenue if their investments are protected on the field.  I think all fans are alike in wanting to value player safety, but at what point do we draw the line and say that it is affecting the true nature of the game?  It is that question that Goodell seems to have answered for us, and likewise for the players, in his own ideals and opinions.

This isn't new to the sporting world, but in case you are this far into the article and wondering why the headline included a reference to NBA Commissioner David Stern.  Stern, while being what most analysts believe to be the "savior of the league," has set the benchmark in terms of this controlling and self-serving behavior.  Stern took over the position of commissioner in 1984, ironically the same time that a certain player from North Carolina came into the league. 

The arrival of Michael Jordan, in particular, ushered in a new era of commercial bounty for the NBA.  With him came his flair and talent for the game, and that brought in shoe contracts from Nike that helped to give the league even more national attention.  Jordan and the two other premier legends of the 1980s, Larry Bird and Magic, took the game to new heights of popularity and profit.  By 2004, Stern had seen the NBA expand from 10 to 30 franchises (since 1966), expand into Canada and televise games in countries around the world.

Stern was widely credited with taking the NBA through this era and implementing newer and better ways to make the league both profitable and marketable. 

As we have now seen, Stern has made almost a mockery of the league in the last decade.  Not only have we seen an NBA referee imprisoned for gambling and affecting outcomes of the game and other league referees convicted of tax evasion, we have witnessed a league filled with questionable outcomes that have seemed all too coincidental to be deemed as such.

Far be it for this writer to go down the path of conspiracy theorist, but again I can only echo what many fans have believed for some time now: Stern has even more control over the league than what is documented. 

The results have seen the NBA turn into an entertainment program more along the lines of the World Wrestling Entertainment organization than of a true sporting event.  This didn't happen overnight.  It has snowballed over the course of the 27 years Stern has been commissioner.

It is quite apparent to me that not only Roger Goodell needs to accept more responsibility and accountability for his impact on the sport, but also do the media in general. 

Sports media have increasingly become the type of fodder one would expect by going through the lane at a supermarket and viewing the tabloids or viewing the latest Internet blog on TMZ.  It is imperative that the most popular sport in the United States not become a vision of a commissioner, but remain true to the sport in directions in which it became loved in the first place.

Shakara Ledard Vanessa Marcil Rachel McAdams Kristin Cavallari Brittany Murphy

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