As commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell is the Chief Executive Officer, but he’s also Chief Justice. He metes out punishment for various offenses or behaviors that he considers to be offenses.
Nobody disputes that he’s done a fine job of negotiating television contracts and bringing ever more wealth to the owners who selected him in the fall of 2006.
But it’s in his role as judge and jury and lawmaker that he has failed. Repeatedly. He seems to have no sense of perspective and context, no ability at all to differentiate between acceptable behavior, slightly improper behavior and truly abhorrent behavior.
What has some media voices calling for his head is his almost blithe attitude toward Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then fiancée Janay Palmer in an elevator in an Atlantic City casino.
Goodell saw video of Rice dragging an unconscious woman out of the elevator and depositing her on the floor like she was a bag of garbage for the maids to haul away. How much more evidence did he need that somebody did something horrible?
Goodell thought Rice’s misconduct was worth only a two-game suspension – same penalty he imposed on Washington safety Brandon Meriwether for a too-hard tackle of a pass receiver. In Goodell’s judgment, punching out a woman in a hotel is roughly equivalent to an excessive hit on the football field.
He’s assessed four-game suspensions for players smoking small amounts of marijuana.
It was only when TMZ showed video of what actually happened inside the elevator in question that Goodell determined that Rice deserved an “indefinite suspension.”
What’s difficult to comprehend about this lamentable episode is why the elevator video alters the case. What did we expect it to show? That she fainted from drinking too much chardonnay?
Why did Goodell and the Ravens management require play-by-play video to figure out a serious crime occurred? This was hardly a case for Columbo or Sherlock Holmes.
The NFL and the Ravens front office are making the point that until last week they were not shown this elevator video that was produced in February, that they had no way of obtaining it. But that’s preposterous. TMZ got it, and many people in Atlantic City were aware of its existence. Many in the police department viewed it, and surely some of them spoke to NFL Security.
It was no revelation that Rice punched out this woman. The only mystery was whether he landed a left hook or a right cross. Upon further review it looks like a left jab. It was widely reported months ago and was posted on this very website that he KO’d her.
If Goodell was unaware, then he’s far too stupid to continue as CEO of a $10 billion corporation.
But somehow actually seeing Palmer’s head bang against an elevator railing has the effect of revealing this as a genuine criminal assault.
Goodell basically excused Rice on grounds that his woman forgave him and in fact married him after all and that the couple was in counseling and that the police pressed no charges. Never mind what message this sends to the youth of America.
The Ravens made sure their website contained an apology not from Rice but from his wife “for my part in this.” Yes, the belatedly released video showed her pushing her skinny little arms against the 205-pound athlete – the “elements of provocation” that ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith said must be considered.
But enough about domestic violence.
Let’s get back to violence on the football field.
In his zeal to protect quarterbacks, the star attractions of the sport, Goodell has established a protocol that nobody understands.
If a defensive player has a one-on-one shot at the quarterback and sacks him, there’s usually no penalty. But if the quarterback manages to release a pass just before he’s tackled by the defender, a penalty flag must be tossed. Sometimes a fine and perhaps even a suspension ensue.
Sunday’s game between Washington and Houston offered a typical example. D.J. Swearinger, the second-year Texan who’s looking like a young Troy Polamalu, blitzed and made a chest-high tackle on Robert Griffin III, who barely managed to get the pass away before he went down.
Is it reasonable to think Swearinger could reverse his momentum and avoid touching Griffin a split second after he released the ball?
No matter, the flag came down as Goodell wanted.
After the game, a Washington linebacker, Brian Orakpo, said, “It looked like a clean hit to me.”
But in Roger Goodell’s NFL, a clean hit is a penalty. A toke of weed is a suspension. Same as beating up a woman. If there’s any justice here, I fail to find it.