By Steve Silverman
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There’s a problem with setting yourself up as judge and jury when you take over a sports league.
It’s akin to a home-plate umpire who shoots his hand skyward and yells “stee-ike” with authority even though he knows that the pitch that just passed was low and away.
A good umpire will silently call himself an idiot and move on to the next call. He will put that bad call in the past and forget about it.
A bad umpire will jut out his jaw and look for a fight to come from the offended dugout. He will also carry that call with him. Instead of calling the next questionable pitch fairly, he will try to make up for the error and pay back the team that had been wronged.
That may seem like justice, but it’s not. It’s compounding one wrong with another.
That scenario brings us to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Whether it was his goal or not, Goodell has set himself up as the hanging judge of the NFL and the arbiter of all that is right and wrong.
In theory, he is merely “defending the shield” that is the NFL logo. If a player, coach or owner (theoretically) does something that reflects poorly on his league, Goodell will dispense his brand of justice.
It’s a tough burden. Especially for Goodell, who was not a judge prior to becoming Paul Tagliabue’s successor as NFL commissioner. Nor was he even a lawyer before he got involved with the NFL. Goodell has a degree in economics.
In his mind, he has a strong grip on right and wrong, and that’s why he feels secure in his ability to dispense justice.
But he is merely that bad umpire. Since becoming commissioner in 2006, Goodell has been handing out punishment in the NFL for bad behavior. He suspended Adam “Pac Man” Jones for a full season in 2007. He suspended Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry for eight games that season, the same amount he suspended Chicago’s Tank Johnson.
Goodell suspended Michael Vick throughout the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and into 2009. He has also suspended Donte Stallworth, Ben Roethlisberger and Ndamukong Suh. He has suspended Jones a second time.
He suspended New Orleans head coach Sean Payton for his role in Bountygate, and he also took down defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Josh Gordon is currently suspended for a full season for marijuana use, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Priefer was suspended three games for using a gay slur and Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Lane Johnson was suspended four games for using a performance enhancer.
These are just a few of the more notable and recent actions Goodell has taken. It can be argued that he was accurate or inaccurate, hard or soft on all of them.
However, the actions taken Thursday are indefensible. Goodell suspended Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens two games for knocking out Janay Palmer, his then-fiancé/current-wife, in an Atlantic City elevator last February. While the most gruesome part of the incident has not been released to the public, a 49-second video shows Rice dragging the unconscious woman out of the elevator by her hair.
Rice, as you may know, has made the media rounds ever since. He has given his mea culpa, and Palmer has been by his side. She has tried to defend him and take the blame for the incident, but that’s what victims of domestic abuse often do.
The apologies, court diversions and circumstances don’t matter. Even if she attacked him first, Rice is a powerful and explosive athlete. He had no right to hit her, knock her out and drag her limp body out of an elevator. All he needed to do was stop her from hitting him.
Goodell is supposed to be the law-and-order commissioner. He failed miserably in this case, as Rice should have been suspended for a full season. That would have sent a clear message to other NFL players. You don’t hit your women or domestic partners under any circumstances.
Goodell had strong words when he spoke about the punishment that he meted out to Rice.
“We simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game,” he said. “This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.”
Those words were empty. Rice will miss two games and three paychecks. He is scheduled to make $4 million this season. He will still earn $3.25 million in the 2014 season. He will survive quite nicely.
Goodell has failed in his efforts to defend the shield. Instead, he has tarnished it. The NFL may court female fans in October when players don pink socks and other delightfully-colored uniform accessories to show their support for breast-cancer research. However, those pink accents are nothing more than heavy makeup that can’t hide the black eye that the iron fist of the NFL has delivered to his own league.
He’s like that bad umpire, and this awful call means that the next individual who stands in front of him is about to pay a heavy price.
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