In the past, on several occasions, I have referred to Roger Goodell as a good politician but a lousy NFL Commissioner. Turns out, he’s not much of a politician, either.
Charged with convincing fans that the 18-game schedule is something we want*, and that safety is among the league’s top priorities, Goodell’s actions don’t match his words.
It’s not a perfect analogy, but work with me: in many ways, Goodell is like George W. Bush. The main difference, as best I can tell, is that while Bush was widely considered a failure at governing (like Goodell), his PR machine was unrivaled at getting out the message faster and louder than the opposition.
Goodell and the NFL, on the other hand, are currently losing the public-relations battle, and it’s not like DeMaurice Smith has some Rovian media strategy. Just the opposite. When you boil it down, Owners vs. Players is basically a political campaign. And when it comes to spreading the message, Smith has been unimpressive. Thankfully for the union, just not as unimpressive as his counterpart. Goodell’s words and actions paint him as an out-of-touch, greedy, rich guy trying to get richer on the backs of the players.
Let’s be honest: as Peter King has written previously, this is a fight between billionaires and millionaires. It’s not health care reform; lives won’t hang in the balance if a new labor deal isn’t struck by March 4. But that’s not the point. It’s about there being no football next fall because of avarice. And right now, the fans appear to support the players.
I wonder if the owners are at all troubled by this. I would have to think that they are since Goodell’s principal job is to sell us on the value of change. As it stands, I’m not sure how he could do a worse job of that.
Luckily, Goodell has the media in his back pocket, most notably Peter King, who announced Monday that he will have a 7,000-word story in Friday’s Sports Illustrated where he genuflects in the commissioner’s direction for his relentlessness and hard work. If Monday Morning Quarterback was a preview, it will be a one-sided PR piece akin to a pre-election political commercial but without the “Candidate X endorses this message” disclaimer.
(Also worth noting: hard work doesn’t equate to being good at your job. No idea how that’s not obvious.)
But fans aren’t stupid (most of them, anyway). When Goodell calls out Ben Roethlisberger and Donte’ Stallworth months after they had served their punishments (and by all accounts, stayed out of trouble), it raises questions about the commissioner’s ability to competently perform his duties. In the middle of what amounts to a political campaign, what good can come of speaking publicly on matters of player discipline? If the plan was to have it backfire in the NFL’s face … well, mission accomplished. (All that’s missing is to have Goodell standing on an aircraft carrier announcing the NFL has won.)
And backfired it has. Peter King had to issue a correction regarding Goodell’s comments that Steelers teammates did not support Roethlisberger this summer. And in hours since the correction, it’s been open season on the NFL. During NFL Network’s Media Day telecast, Deion Sanders offered this frank assessment: “Isn’t it something that Commissioner Goodell can tell Peter King, ‘Look here man, you better get this right.’”
King eventually got the quote right but Goodell still looks like a schmuck. But he had to know this would happen, right? If not, god help us all. Because then we’re dealing with someone so out of their depth that they’re liable to do anything. A loose cannon, making decisions on a whim, with no interest in the long-term ramifications.
Lessening Goodell’s credibility: players — most notably on the Steelers — speaking out. Hines Ward has been beating this drum all season and in a recent interview with GQ he didn’t mince words: “To say the league really cares? They don’t give a f*ck about concussions. And now they want to add on two extra games? Are you kidding? Come on, let’s be real.” (That entire article is an indictment against what the NFL is trying to do. In terms of spin, the players accomplished more in a few hundred words than Goodell has been able to manage in months of gum-flapping.)
Revisiting the political campaign analogy one last time, if the NFL knew what it was doing, it would have immediately issued a response, one that painted Ward as a fringe whackjob who has made his living injuring opponents. (Hey, it’s politics, the gloves are off. If Goodell is going to call out Roethlisberger and Stallworth — and inadvertently mobilize other players in the process — he might as well talk shit with a purpose.)
Instead, silence. Although saying nothing might be in Goodell’s best interest. Pretty sure comments like these don’t help his cause: (via Doug Farrar’s labor report from January 11):
In what may be the most unreal consequence of the players’ health insurance running out in the event of a lockout, there are pregnant players’ wives asking Fujita if they should induce labor before the lockout. When Goodell was given these concerns months ago by the players, his response was, “Well, you’ll want to get something done (in the CBA) then, won’t you?” I’m really surprised someone didn’t punch his lights out for that one.
I eagerly await Peter King’s response.
There is an upside to all this, even if we might be without football in a few weeks: for now, the labor talks have taken the attention away from the always vapid week-of-the-Super Bowl storylines.
“Big Ben’s redemption!”
“Aaron Rodgers’ shaking the Favre monkey off his back!”
“Inez Sainz is a serious journalist!”
Or worse (via @xmasape):
So in that sense, we’re all winners this week. Well, all of us except Goodell and the media that has kindly bent over for him. (Obvious exclusion: Bill Simmons)
* Some fans are, in fact, in favor of an 18-game season. I recognize that. I also recognize that Goodell is talking out of both sides of his mouth about player safety, and it’s that hypocrisy that bothers me. And, apparently, Hines Ward.