Roger Goodell Made the Right Decision with Bountygate, but Will It Save the NFL?

Paul WardContributor IIIApril 9, 2012

49ers and Seahawks
49ers and SeahawksOtto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Thank God, Jolly Roger Goodell, or GODell as his critics call him, made the right decision today. But I wish he had used the moment to say more than "This is no place" for the likes of Bountygate. That sounds like the crusty librarian scolding a cell phone user.

What I wish is that he would have turned away from his notes, away from the pro forma, and said, "There's something else I'd like to add....” and used an aside to make a major policy speech.

He could have simply resorted to the metaphor of test results back from the doctor. "I don't want to alarm you, but there is a problem here, something you should know about. We all need to address it."

Now this part would have been difficult—to choose the right word, to make the point strongly enough on the one hand, but not to draw ridicule on the other.  

However he phrased it, the point to be made is that unless his office takes more control of the game, professional football, as it's played in the NFL, faces extinction.  

As bizarre, as outrageous, and simply loony as that sounds....

Still, you hear versions of end times in lots of places these days. Last week, Rush Limbaugh predicted liberals would kill the game because it's become too rough. We've all heard the speculation on how concussions are changing the sport and may dissuade younger players from staying with it.

Not to mention the background noise. The Sandusky story, for example, is a localized matter, but it adds to the chatter and belief among some who never liked the sport that football in general is tainted these days, and pro football is particularly tainted.


It all happens, little by little. In his newly published book, Illegal Procedure, Josh Lucks (with James Dale) writes about the 18-year arc of an NFL player-agent losing his moral compass, and breaking the rules “over and over.”

If we all know it’s wrong, how does it happen? The same way most wrongs happen. A little at a time. Almost unnoticeably. Five miles over the speed limit, “borrowing” someone’s Internet signal, bootleg DVDs, cheating—just a little—on your income tax or on your spouse, fake IDs, too many groceries in the fifteen-items-or-less line…Small sins, white lies, and gray areas…

As an aside, you may also wonder at the irony; here’s another villain making out like a bandit with a memoir documenting his wrongdoing…And so you may also wonder, when do you mark the end of the wrongdoing.

For sure, the game is not what it once was. And it's not a question of corruption, lawsuits or bounties and other "gates." It's that the violence has simply gotten out of hand and it may not be possible to get it back under control. Which is a function less of idiots like Greg Williams than the evolution of the human body.  

And then consider the physics of the game, the expectations of fans, the culture within the sport and technology, and you can imagine how we might be approaching a point at which the shape of the game is untenable. It may need to be recast, with a different emphasis, or a different style.  You could argue it's been moving in this direction for the last several years anyway.

As this transformation happens, it's not necessarily good or bad, and it has nothing to do with liberals or conservatives. Moreover, this is all a fair price to save the pro game and the sport.