Commissioner Has Best Interests At Heart, But Needs Trained Legal Minds To Assist

By Steve Silverman
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Roger Goodell is the arbiter of all that is fair and decent in the NFL.

He made a crucial error a few weeks ago when he handed Ray Rice a two-game suspension even though there was incontrovertible video evidence that demonstrated he physically abused his fiancé, who has since become his wife.

Goodell has since changed the NFL’s policy, issuing an edict on Thursday that first-time domestic violence offenders will be suspended six games and those who have a second offense will be banned for life.

“At times … despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals,” Goodell said in a letter that went out to the NFL’s 32 owners. “We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence. We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place.”

Goodell may be responding to the public hue and cry, private criticisms from his inner circle or he may just realize that he made a mistake.

Whatever the reason, the change in policy reflects better upon Goodell and the NFL “shield” than the penalty that was handed out to Rice.

But it doesn’t solve the NFL’s issues when it comes to off-the-field behavior and the penalties that are handed out whenever the league feels a player — or any individual associated with the NFL — has violated league behavioral standards.

These issues are tough and complicated, and the NFL does have the right to discipline individuals who have done things that reflect poorly on the game.

But why is Goodell the one to mete out justice? He is not a judge nor is he a trained lawyer. How can he think that his own personal morals are enough for him to do a proper job?

He failed with Rice, and now he has attempted to get it right. Goodell is basically saying that his brand of justice is hit or miss.

The issues in today’s society are incredibly complicated. Only trained judges and juries have the right to take away a person’s freedom when they violate our laws. When NFL players commit a transgression, Goodell and the league he represents have the right to take away a player’s livelihood and means of support. This can have a huge impact on that player’s physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Is Goodell really qualified to make these decisions? The answer is a clear and resounding “No.”

In past generations, the issues were not as complicated as they are today. Pete Rozelle suspended stars Paul Hornung and Alex Karras in 1963 for betting on NFL games. Rozelle was protecting his sport.

Now, the commissioner must concern himself with issues like drug use, alcohol abuse, driving under the influence, gun ownership and domestic violence.

These are not easy issues and it is difficult for a trained legal mind to make the right call.

I have no doubt that Goodell means well in every decision he makes. He is just not more qualified to make these decisions than your next-door neighbor.

Come to think of it, if your neighbor is a lawyer or a judge, he’s a lot more qualified.

If Goodell wants to make sure players are disciplined properly, he needs to find educated and qualified individuals to make logical and legal recommendations that he can follow. That means active or retired judges who are trained in the law.

The first professional sports league commissioner was Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was hired by Major League Baseball to clean up the sport following the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Landis was a federal court judge before he was hired to run baseball. While Landis oversaw baseball with an iron fist, he did it with a trained legal mind.

If the NFL is in the business of handing out penalties for those who have violated our societal rules, it needs trained legal minds to make those decisions.

Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy

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