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Roger Goodell Should Lose His Job… But Maybe Not Exactly For Why You Think

This article is both entirely serious and also very cautiously written. Please keep an open mind and avoid rushing to snap judgments before reading the entire thing.

We all seem to agree that this man has failed badly at his job; what I feel is incorrect is what people seem to think his job actually is, and how he failed at it.
We all seem to agree that this man has failed badly at his job; what I feel is incorrect is what people seem to think his job actually is, and how he failed at it.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As the opening just stated, this article is written 100% in earnest. There is no trolling, no joking, no tongue-in-cheek on this one. This is also something I've put a lot of thought into; I wouldn't classify it as a ‘hot take' so much as an angle I feel most are missing when it comes to discussing Goodell's future as the NFL commissioner. Furthermore, that is the entire point to this article- Goodell, and the job he has done most recently in handling the NFL's latest crisis- not the crisis itself, namely, Ray Rice and what he did. I think (hopefully) everyone here can agree that what Rice did was horrendous, that domestic violence is a blight on our society, and that outside of legitimate defense of life and limb a man never has any excuse to strike a woman (again, legitimate- as in, ‘she came at me with a knife', not, ‘she smacked my shoulder or tried to push me'). We're not discussing any of that.

Whether it was Keith Olberman calling for every head possible or Adam Schefter's furious takedown of the NFL last night, most of the loudest voices out there are calling for Goodell's resignation. While he has often been characterized as a ‘controversial' commissioner throughout his tenure, this season has seen some unbelievable miscalculations on his part. First, he suspended Ray Rice a paltry two games and one additional game check for hitting his fiancé, then he made the whole thing practically a punch-line by suspending Josh Gordon an entire season for a very low level amount of THC in a drug test, a level that some have argued is possible simply by contact (not actually ingesting/inhaling). And I agree, but maybe not for the main reason most are pointing out; although to be fair I have seen a few mention the angle I will be taking here.

First, before continuing, let's examine what Goodell's job actually is, not just what we perceive it to be. His primary job description is the most oxymoronic line ever- "to defend the shield". Seriously, think about it, it's an odd thing to say- defending a shield. That's not really how shields work, nor does it really imply that you're using one properly. While you might argue that's a semantics-based statement, the metaphor holds deeper water than that. As much as Goodell is tasked with ‘defending the shield', the NFL has, in fact, proven to be an excellent shield for him, as well as the owners at large. Let's recall the lockout, the referee strike, the concussion lawsuits. One can argue that at several junctions throughout those critical events, Goodell mismanaged and blundered, sometimes badly. Yet the NFL remains, as it has been for many years, on an upward trajectory and that has kept his job was as safe as ever. While many CEOs can perform badly at their jobs and not suffer for it, the fact that none of us have yet to truly boycott football- and are unlikely to even now- has insulated him from ever having to double-check his resume. He does appear to be keenly aware that the risk exists, to his credit. He helped in some ways to ensure that the lockout did not cost us any actual games. When the replacement referees finally hit the doomsday scenario and altered the outcome of a game, the regular guys were back the following week.

But the point remains that defending a shield shouldn't be a terribly difficult task, as a shield is perfectly capable of defending itself- and its user. And the NFL provides as capable a shield as any out there. The NFL bungled the Ray Rice situation as badly as could be, yet I bet none of you boycotted any of the games played on opening weekend because of it. (If you did, my apologies for an assumption.) I'm appalled by it but I will still be watching the Minnesota Vikings throughout this season, as well as several other games. If Roger Goodell keeps his job, I bet that any boycott against the NFL over it will be small, relatively quiet, and probably totally missed by himself and the owners.

‘Defending the shield' is really just a fancy term for Goodell's true job function- the #1 PR guy. While Goodell has great powers in terms of player suspensions, fines, etc., his overall job functions really revolve around the consideration of the owners. Why do you think Jim Irsay faced a slap on the wrist, yet Matt Prater is suspended four games for drinking at home? (And not hitting his wife during? Or driving? And all because of a DUI in 2011?) Goodell has nominal power over the individual owners in theory, but for the most part he is nothing more than their collective face for the league, the guy tasked with ensuring that the goose lays golden eggs- a process that really takes nothing more than sitting and watching for the most part. When a crisis hits, his job is to ensure that games are still played, shown on TV, people still watch (which they pretty much will no matter what he does), and that the checks keep rolling in. Again, defending the shield really isn't a terribly difficult job in theory.

So what is not Goodell's job? To be a police officer or a prosecutor of law. This should be obvious, as players who are arrested for a crime can generally escape penalty (LeVeon Bell, for a recent example), and conversely players who are not arrested and charged can still be punished (Ben Roethlisberger, for the most famous example). His job is to treat them how the public wants them to be treated by the league, and to minimize any fallout for it. This explains initially why Ray Rice's and Josh Gordon's suspensions seem so absurdly unequal and wrong. Rice, prior to all of this, was not known as a law breaker or a ‘bad boy'. He was in many ways one of the key faces for an entire franchise in the league. Gordon, on the other hand, fairly or unfairly had the reputation as a ‘bad boy', a trouble maker, a repeat offender. He was to a large segment of the football watching population a guy who couldn't take his job seriously enough to just quit the reefer. Their initial punishments reflected this sentiment and this perception- while Rice had by and far committed the worse crime, Goodell calculated that his previous reputation and the love of a team's fan base meant that the sooner he was back on the field, the better. Conversely, with Gordon, he calculated he needed to make a big stand to show that the league is ‘tough on drugs' and thus win the hearts and minds of the population.

See, in a court of law, each and every crime has a prescribed punishment. While judges have certain leeway in sentencing, there are guidelines. And while the NFL has its own guidelines (albeit often far looser), these are largely based on the matter of public perception; not the overall impact the crime has on society, like a court of law's guidelines. And a court of law requires that a jury of your peers agrees that you are guilty of what you are charged with for a judge to say anything other than ‘you are free to go'; Goodell, on the other hand, simply weighs what he feels will make the public happiest. While NFL rules regarding player safety are structured a bit differently (with the primary goal of keeping players healthy on the field- concussion lawsuit fallout notwithstanding), rules regarding player conduct otherwise are entirely designed to make you nod your head sagely in approval, and Goodell's application of these rules comes from the exact same viewpoint. A court of law never heard Roethlisberger's case regarding accusations of rape, but Goodell correctly calculated that the public would be infuriated if the league simply said ‘well he wasn't charged, so we will leave him alone'. Believe me, if for whatever reason Goodell calculated the opposite, Roethlisberger would have never even heard from the league office.

But that is actually fine, because that is Goodell's job. Again, he's not really meant to be a moral compass, a judge of the guilty and the innocent. His job as the #1 PR guy is to just make you think that way. No CEO of any company is any different, either. High-level, visible employees who commit crimes are punished by their companies primarily because of public fallout, and the punishments are entirely designed to perfectly counterbalance that fallout with the employee's importance and role factored in. If the video of Rice had not elicited outrage, or at least been obvious that it would, Rice would still be on the Ravens and his punishment would have not been increased. If Goodell felt there would have been more backlash by suspending Rice, he wouldn't have done so. Because that's Goodell's job- to make the fans happy, and keep them that way. The letter he penned and released publicly stating that he failed on punishing Rice wasn't some moral epiphany, it was 100% a reaction to fan outcry.

And that is where he failed. His epic miscalculation on how fans would react to the bi-polar punishments of Rice and Gordon was bad enough; his apparent belief that the video would never be released was even worse. In today's time, if it's on video, the smart bet will always be to assume it will be seen. Now I don't know if Goodell or the league office overall saw the video. If they didn't, it's because they didn't want to- I will say that. As good as TMZ is at digging up dirt, their resources still don't hold a candle to the NFL's massive power. But that's neither here nor there, really. What matters is that he apparently believed wholeheartedly that it wouldn't be released. And that failure alone should cause him to lose his job.

Again, I don't think there will actually be a backlash to this, at least not where the NFL truly would feel it- the checkbook. There will not be any serious boycott, at least not at any level that they will really notice. There will be outcry, there may be protests, but the money will role in relatively unabated. The shield will defend Goodell from his serious blunder, despite again his ironic job description. But it should show that Goodell is no longer calculating public perception correctly, or that he is even fully aware of how things work in today's time. Just 15 years ago, that video likely would never have been seen by the public. Combining those blunders shows that he is no longer trustworthy for his role. The shield will only insulate him so long; too many such mistakes will, in fact, begin hurting the checkbook and the shield will crack.

Goodell's job was never to punish Ray Rice for hitting his wife because he hit his wife. That job belonged to the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office, who obviously failed there quite badly- but that's a totally different story. Goodell's job was to punish Ray Rice for hitting his wife because it would cause fan outcry. And whether he saw the video or not is inconsequential in many ways. The reason he has so much power in terms of levying fines, suspensions, etc. is because he is supposed to be the key judge of what the public will want to see. Actually punishing these players in accordance with their crimes and the effect on society is the job of the United States judicial system. And during this season, all of one week in, he has successfully misjudged public perception so badly that it's become a giant, running joke. And there's only so long that punchline can continue before the guy who is ‘defending the shield' finds that the shield is no longer defending him.