Conflict brings focus. An adversary can quickly expose deception. Roger Goodell has an adversary: Scott Fujita, the Cleveland Browns linebacker, whose original suspension by Commissioner Goodell has recently been reduced to from three games to one game. Fujita still has good reason for his displeasure with Goodell, and his recent statement might be the NFL quote of the month:
“The commissioner says he is disappointed in me. The truth is, I’m disappointed in him. His positions on player health and safety since a 2009 congressional hearing on concussions have been inconsistent at best. He failed to acknowledge a link between concussions and post-career brain disease, pushed for an 18-game regular season, committed to a full season of Thursday night games, has continually challenged players’ rights to file worker’s compensation claims for on-the-job injuries, and he employed incompetent replacement officials for the start of the 2012 season. His actions or lack thereof, are by the league’s own definition, ‘conduct detrimental.’ My track record on the issue of player health and safety speaks for itself. And clearly, as I just listed, the commissioner’s does too.”
Fujita is right. He’s been sanctioned by Goodell on the old doctrine of Respondeat Superior, which imposes guilt or liability upon a supervisor for the wrongdoings of an underling. It’s failure of supervision, as Goodell describes it.
Fujita, however, understands the irony, because Goodell and his owners have much more “respondeat superior” culpability on issues of player safety and health than Fujita has ever had: until just two years ago, when Goodell and the NFL fired their “captive” Concussion “expert”, whose qualifications and opinions appeared the result of incoherence, stupidity, and perhaps some kind of delusion, the NFL was an affirmative schemer — in behavior which eerily mimicked that of Big Tobacco for so many decades — in effort to ridicule any suggestion that football hits might be a significant cause of head and other injury.
But Fujita’s statement has pierced the carefully coiffed cynicism of Goodell and the owners, who have set two contradictory, parallel courses: on the one hand, Goodell has used his bully pulpit (a pulpit partially endorsed and enabled by the NFLPA’s weak-kneed DeMaurice Smith’s signing of the recent CBA) to vilify Saints’ “bounty” players — while nonetheless pressing aggressively to extend the regular season complement of games to 18 — hoping to persuade a gullible public to believe a lie: that the Saints’ alleged “bounty” mechanism somehow generates more risk of short-and-long-term injury than the expansion of the NFL regular season schedule by 12 percent.
But it’s more profound than that, and Goodell here is not just a hypocrite, but a dissembler. Here’s why: the NFL has built it’s product by exalting the “killer hit”, whether through NFL films, ESPN, or other networks’ replay and advertising focus on bone-crushing hits. This pandering to the “martial enthusiasms of the masses” (to quote Gibbons) has been for 25 years now a major, overweening factor encouraging the kinds of concussions and brain injuries which now appear to have predominated amongst former and current players. The suggestion from the details of Goodell’s sanction of Fujita — that Fujita, not Goodell, ought to have been the one primarily responsible for instituting an ethic which ran directly counter the league’s own relentless and mercenary long-running effort to build its’ “brand” by touting violence on the field is not only unfair, but craven.
Who runs this Athletics/Entertainment complex which is the NFL, after all — Roger Goodell — or Scott Fujita? Goodell here isn’t a deer in the headlights: he’s a squirrel in the headlights, scurrying and darting all over.
And Fujita?– here’s to you, Scott, and your health and, as Billy Joel used to say at the end of every live concert: “Don’t take any shit from anybody!”
In the midst of typing this, I get news that Fujita may never play again, apparently because of some diagnosed neck injury. (http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/10/15/report-scott-fujita-has-neck-injury-that-may-be-career-ending/)
Make you stop and think?