It’s time to wonder if Roger Goodell should remain the NFL commissioner after a judge reinstated Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, reversing Goodell’s four-game suspension.
The joke has been going for a good year now.
It started in Baltimore, journeyed to Minnesota, and most recently passed through New England.
It will likely continue, because this particular joke seems destined to endure. But that doesn’t mean we don’t know the punchline.
It’s Roger Goodell.
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Thursday morning, a federal judge named Richard Berman did two things of significance: He overturned Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, and turned the NFL commissioner’s authority on its head.
Goodell’s myopic, arrogant attempt to look strong has rendered him weaker than ever. How can one possibly view him as a disciplinarian when his every punishment is disregarded?
Last September, after his meager two-game suspension of Ray Rice infuriated the country, Goodell declared that — on second thought — the former Ravens running back would have to sit out indefinitely. A judge overturned that suspension.
Later that month — most likely as a means to restore his tough-guy image — Goodell suspended Vikings running back Adrian Peterson indefinitely after he was indicted on charges of child abuse. A judge overturned that suspension.
And in July, of course, Goodell slapped Brady with a four-game suspension for his failure to cooperate in the NFL’s Deflategate investigation. A judge … well, you get the point.
From afar, it might appear as though it’s the appeals process that needs fixing. A guy who knocked his future wife out in an elevator, a guy who left his 4-year-old son’s legs bloodied, and a guy who sure-as-hell seems to have flattened footballs all got off?
However, when you look closer, these reversals weren’t the result of softhearted judges — they were the result of a slow-witted commissioner.
Had Goodell handed down a just penalty to Rice in the first place, he likely could have avoided this spiral into oblivion. But in a desperate attempt to prove himself as an enforcer of proper conduct, the disciplinarian turned draconian.
Due process ceased to exist. Two-sided stories were obsolete. In Goodell’s mind, you were guilty until — well, there is no way you are innocent, so why even finish that sentence?
All of this led to a Deflategate crescendo that punctuated the NFL’s most embarrassing 12 months to date. Goodell refused to entertain any notion of a compromise in Brady’s punishment, insisting on four games despite no tangible proof of wrongdoing.
There were countless questions surrounding the case for which no concrete answer could be provided. But the commish had just one question for anyone who opposed him: Do you know who I am?
Fortunately for the Patriots, Judge Berman didn’t care who he was. He nullified the suspension because, not only did the NFL fail to inform Brady of the punishment he faced, it refused to let Brady’s side examine the evidence against him or question those prosecuting him.
This isn’t over, of course. Goodell announced Thursday that the league (surprise, surprise) plans to appeal Berman’s decision.
This shouldn’t clear Brady in the court of public opinion, either. Given all the circumstantial evidence against him — from the texts between Patriots employees to his smashed cellphone — the reigning Super Bowl MVP would almost surely lose a civil trial.
But the main issue here is Goodell’s credibility. If he were a piñata, this would be the strike that finally broke him open.
There have been other instances, such as the Saints’ Bountygate, Greg Hardy’s domestic-violence charges, or Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s alleged Adderall use, in which Goodell’s suspensions were reduced significantly or overturned altogether. It has reached the point where it is a surprise if his punishments are actually upheld.
So how the heck is he still in power?
The easy answer is because the NFL is as popular as ever. Angered as fans may have been with the league last year, their outrage never kept them out of the stadiums or away from their televisions.
But guess what? They would do the same regardless of who was in charge. So now, more than ever, is the time for a change.
With poor decision after poor decision, Goodell has diminished professional football’s integrity. He has repeatedly embarrassed the league and the 32 owners he works for.
Yes, the commissioner has turned himself into what may be the biggest joke in American sports.
But keeping him around? That would be a bigger one.