Byrd: Obvious problems with the NFL

BY MATTHEW BYRD | JULY 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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Most of the non-ESPN sports media, women’s rights activists, criminal-justice experts, lay commentators, and logical people everywhere were justifiably outraged with the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to suspend Baltimore Raven running back Ray Rice a mere two games after he allegedly beat his then-fiancée and dragged her unconscious body from a Las Vegas elevator in February. The move was widely seen as a slap on the wrist, a message sent by the league that domestic abuse will be tolerated as long as, in the words of Daily Beast writer Robert Silverman, you average 4 yards a carry.

Unfortunately, this incident is not anomalous to the career of Goodell but rather yet another indictment in a tenure riddled with malevolence.

To begin with, there’s the bizarre, myopic disciplinarian code he has adopted for player conduct, a code in which drug violations are viewed as a more serious offense than rape or domestic abuse.

A report done by the excellent sports blog Sports on Earth found that the majority of Goodell’s major suspensions (eight or more games) have been reserved for drug-related offenses, while assault and battery, dirty hits, gun charges, and sexual assaults have carried far less punitive punishments.

In Goodell-land, it’s OK to abuse someone as long as you don’t smoke a joint afterwards.

Goodell’s record on labor relations isn’t much better. He almost caused a lockout of the 2011 season by, as CBS Sports chronicled, insisting on 18 percent cuts in player compensation, an extra $1 billion for the owners off the top of the league’s gargantuan revenue pile, and an 18-game schedule (he eventually lost miserably). It’s even worse when you look at the 2012 negotiations with the referees’ union, in which, as The Nation’s Dave Zirin pointed out, Goodell’s insistence on barring refs from holding jobs outside the league and terminating their pensions led to a three-week lockout filled with scab refs that resulted in officiating so bad it united Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in calling for a settlement (which Goodell also lost).]

In addition to the major sins, Goodell also continues to insist on terrible ideas that will ruin the league, such as Thursday Night Football and putting a franchise for a hilariously provincial sport in London. He even denied the inarguable link between football head injuries and significant brain damage in front of a congressional committee.

I’d say Goodell should be fired if I thought it would do any good, but the position of NFL commissioner itself is so reprehensible as to be beyond redemption by any single individual. It’s sole purpose is to be a shill for the owners, a collection of soulless plutocrats that include a man convicted of civil racketeering (Viking owner Zygi Wilf), one who recently paid $92 million in fines to the Justice Department for orchestrating a fuel-rebate scam with his truck-stop company (Browns owner Jimmy Haslam), and, of course, Dan Snyder. It’s like being a mob lawyer, except with less dignity.

If Goodell were to go, the organization would probably just hire a more unreconstructed reprobate who’d call for a 25-game season or divert the money set aside for concussed retired players’ medical expenses for the next shady owners’ inevitable legal defense fund.

The real solution to Goodell’s awfulness is cutting the head off the beast that created him. Just get rid of all the owners and adopt a Green Bay Packers-esque public-ownership scheme. Unfortunately, that’s too good of an idea for it to ever be implemented, so we’ll probably be forced to watch Goodell be awful for a few more decades before he decides to enjoy a comfortable retirement (which won’t be hard with his $44 million a year salary) and/or join a law firm that defends corporations from labor-violation lawsuits.

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