Roger Goodell is known as the most powerful man in sports. Being the commissioner of the most popular sport in the United States will give you that title, but it also comes with a lot of criticism.
Goodell has often said his job in relation the National Football League is to act as the “protecting shield”, meaning his job is to protect the integrity of the game of football and the National Football League. Goodell’s tenure officially began on the first of September in 2006 just before the ‘06 season began, and in just seven seasons Goodell has managed to stir up numerous controversial topics.
Goodell's first staple on the NFL was his introduction of the Player Conduct Policy. Since the policy has been in place numerous controversial suspensions have been given to players for their off-field conduct, unrelated to football. The likes of Adam “Pacman” Jones, Chris Henry, Mike Vick, Donte Stallworth, and Ben Roethlisberger have had suspensions and fines for incidents that occurred outside of the NFL. In addition to that, Goodell also began fining players for their on-field conduct.
Players like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison were fined for hits that Goodell later backed up by stating, "It is clear to me that further action is required to emphasize the importance of teaching safe and controlled techniques, and of playing within the rules." The reaction from numerous players and fans was that Goodell had abused his control and power over punishments towards players.
Goodell’s next controversy involed his leadership. On March 11th the 2011 NFL lockout began, and was fortunately settled on August 5th, but it was noted that the league lost millions of dollars. During the lockout it was Goodell’s job to work with both the NFL owners and the NFLPA on a settlement. Goodell’s role in the 2011 lockout can be viewed as both positive and negative, depending on how you perceive the end result and examine the state of the league's integrity.
2012 has perhaps been the most controversial year Goodell has had in his tenure as commissioner. In March Goodell opened up the Bountygate scandal that accused the New Orleans Saints of instituting a bounty program. Goodell targeted coaches and specific players and handed down some of the harshest penalties the league has ever seen. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire season, assistant head coach Joe Vitt was given a six game suspension, and then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was given an indefinite suspension.
The Saints front office was also punished when general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for 8 games and the organization as a whole was given the maximum $500,000 fine and stripped of their 2012 and 2013 second round draft picks. The player suspensions of Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita, and Anthony Hargrove were perhaps the most controversial. Each player remains adamant about their innocence and proclaims Goodell sanctioned them without the proper evidence.
Later the player’s would take the NFL and Goodell to federal court on the grounds that they needed to present proper evidence to mandate the suspensions; which ultimately resulted in the player’s getting their suspensions lifted. Many feel Goodell acted too harshly, and without enough evidence, again abusing his control and power over the NFL’s players and coaches.
Perhaps the most controversial issue Goodell has faced, is the one we fans have the misfortune of hearing about day-in and day-out now, the NFL Referees Association lockout. The NFL and NFLRA failed to agree on a collective bargaining agreement, which resulted in the league replacing its officials with low-level college, high school, and even lingerie football league officials.
It has since been reported that some of the referees who officiated the controversial Monday night football game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks were fired from the Lingerie Football League for poor performance.
This whole situation can best be described in a letter from the NFLPA to the NFL front offices during week 2, “It is lost on us as to how you allow a Commissioner to cavalierly issue suspensions and fines in the name of player health and safety yet permit the wholesale removal of the officials that you trained and entrusted to maintain that very health and safety. It has been reported that the two sides are apart by approximately $60,000 per team. We note that your Commissioner has fined an individual player as much in the name of "safety." Your actions are looking more and more like simple greed.
As players, we see this game as more than the "product" you reference at times. You cannot simply switch to a group of cheaper officials and fulfill your legal, moral, and duty obligations to us and our fans. You need to end the lockout and bring back the officials immediately.”
In seven years Goodell has been the center of four controversial topics. To reiterate, Goodell feels his job as NFL commissioner is to protect the integrity of the game, and has done so by trying to make sure players behave by implementing the Player Conduct Policy. He also provided the proper mediation during the 2011 lockout to allow the season to go forth and keep football going on Sundays, another plus.
The issues in question, lie in what Goodell has been doing with his power, when fines and suspensions are handed down to players, especially in the Bountygate scandal. The ever-growing issue of the NFLRA lockout may now even overshadow questionable player fines because it is evident to players, fans, and coaches alike that the integrity of the game is being affected.
The way Goodell has mishandled the issues surrounding the NFL in 2012 leave a lot of fans questioning his role as NFL commissioner, and deservingly so. Goodell has been softening the game of football by fining players for hits, recognized the safety issues behind those hits, yet he refuses to settle a dispute between referees and owners that clearly have a bearing on those same safety issues. Coaches, players, and fans are unhappy with Goodell as of late and make us football fans miss the days when Paul Tagliabue was in charge. Is it to late to ask Tagliabue to take his job back?