Wrong-Way Goodell: Where I Rate Goodell’s Post-Deflategate Fate

Roger Goodell is like wrong way Roy Riegels, the Cal linebacker/center who picked up a Georgia Tech fumble in the 1929 Rose Bowl, and ran the ball in the wrong direction — toward his own goal line — which he failed to cross only because his own teammate corralled him at the 1-yard line.


Goodell, like Riegels, has similarly set back the NFL’s labor relations field position, in advance of the negotiation of the next CBA, by about 50 or 60 yards, as follows:

1. An ‘Independent’ Investigator is Not an Employee or the Corporation’s Existing Law Firm: The long hard glare of talk show and other publicity has thoroughly exposed for public view the silly trickery associated with the appointment of an “independent” investigation which is, actually, not at all independent, but just conducted by someone who is not an everyday employee. Ted Wells’ investigation was not only completely lacking in independence (since his firm represents the NFL), but was as much of a put-up job as the notorious (and widely ridiculed) “independent” UNC academic investigation conducted by former Governor Bob Martin. This is all to the general good, because it might encourage pro and college sports business managers to stop this trickery, but Goodell has run the NFL backward on this one.

2. A ‘Gate’ as a Lesson-Maker: –– This is Better Than Judge Judy: The NFL has just succeeded in thoroughly convincing the great unwashed masses of NFL viewers (and non-NFL viewers) that no self-respecting corporation or league would ever favor a collective bargaining agreement which excludes completely neutral arbitration — even though the current CBA provides, as Judge Berman made clear, a decidedly un-neutral arbitration framework. The public, in some ways, is now going to be a part of the next CBA negotiation, worried that a “fair” (read: neutral) process must be put in place.

3. The Forgotten Judge Who Ruled in Brady’s Favor: There is a forgotten judge in all this Deflategate chronology, and he was an employee of the NFL. And he ruled in Brady’s favor. This was the referee who discovered that the footballs had briefly, and without explanation, disappeared for some short minute at half-time. He considered his evidence and thought about it quickly. First, he knew the context: that the QB’s had, in 2006, been given much more discretion in selecting the balls to be used while on offense, and that this change had been enacted, if not pushed, by the league, in order to: 1) inflate QB passing performances, and scoring, in order to keep fans entertained; and 2) thereby burnish the ‘superstar’ status of league quarterbacks — to similarly build fan interest, loyalty, and entertainment.

He felt the footballs and, being a fellow who has been around footballs all his life, knew that nothing significant had occurred. Finally, he thought to himself: why in the world would anyone in the NFL want to set up some ready avenue to call into question the integrity of its star quarterback – when there’s no ball-inflation problem? (He may have also thought to himself: there’s more damned pissant midget-wrestling that goes on, minute-by-minute, at these games, and I can’t be chasing after every little dust-puppy.).

So the ref ruled from the bench: No harm, no foul — Play Ball! He didn’t even bother to write a decision — or even mention it to anyone! This so-called deflation ‘problem’, at this first, immediate adjudicative level, didn’t even warrant a second thought from the ref.

4. Rule 46 ‘Conduct Detrimental’ is Going to Get Narrowed at the Next Negotiation: The NFL runs a Glamour Factory, in which it carefully crafts players images to accord with some hard-to-define public expectation. It’s beyond me why the American public apparently badly needs to believe that the fellow who scored two touchdowns last night never misbehaves, but the league certainly not only worries about that, but acts upon it, in the form of loopy, Draconian ‘disciplinary’ decisions by Roger Goodell — all of which all get shot down by Big Foot, much smarter, Federal Judges or independent arbitrators. Players will want, at the next contract talks, to limit the commissioner’s power to discipline to those instances where the criminal law has convicted, while the league will want wide-open commissioner discretion to discipline. By going after Brady, and losing so haplessly, the league has helped move the public toward the player’s side, in favor of imposing some rational limits on that league power.

5. The Public Now Knows that Roger Goodell is a Squirrel in the Headlights, Darting Deperately to-and-fro’, and Chasin’ Dust-Puppies.

This has all not gone well for Goodell the Squirrel, and he’s right now at high risk of getting fatally caught where the rubber meets the road. The public will, at the time of the next CBA negotiation, be ‘at the table’ to an extent not seen since Reagan shut out the air-traffic controllers in ’81 — and that public has been moved to favor the players, through Goodell’s wrong-way, darting-squirrel dashes and dust-puppy chases, while Goodell has run his NFL backward to its own 1-yard line. 

As that ref must’ve asked himself in that locker-room at half time: why in the world would anyone in the NFL want to set up some ready avenue to call into question the integrity of its star quarterback – when there’s no ball-inflation problem?

About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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