My wife and I recently went to see the movie Celeste and Jesse Forever with Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg. It was my wife’s idea, and I agreed in part to be a good husband and in part because Jones has been on my celebrity crush list since seeing her whip Jim in Call of Duty in The Office a few years back.
I am mentioning this because a theme of the movie was that sometimes it is more important to be happy than to be right, even when you’re right. I think Roger Goodell needs to see the movie and take that message to heart. If he does, he will finally put both the lockout of the officials and New Orleans Saints Bountygate in the rearview mirror.
Each NFL team has already played over 12 percent of its games. In two weeks, we have seen the dominance of the San Francisco 49ers, 500 passing yards from Eli Manning, a shocking loss by the Patriots at home, and much, much more.
Yet, the performance of the players on the field has taken a back seat.
Watching Mike & Mike on ESPN this morning, Mike Greenberg in talking with John Clayton said, “You wouldn’t think Peyton Manning throwing three interceptions in one quarter wouldn’t be the top story, but all everyone is talking about is the officiating.” And this question came after the show spent at least an hour talking about the bounty story.
Similarly, during Monday Night Football last night, Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks tweeted, “Peyton Manning is having one of his worst games ever, and all we’re talking about is the refs. Even though NFL wants focus on the players."
From the NFL’s perspective, I understand you cannot just give a group—whether it be the players or the officials—everything they ask for.
I also understand that if you have uncovered a program that you believe paid players to injure other players, you cannot just look the other way. Especially when you are at least trying to appear as if your primary concern is player safety.
But these decisions have to be made in the context of the bigger picture. It is not good for the game to have games being officiated by referees no one respects, by referees who are ill-prepared, and by referees who are being scrutinized in unprecedented fashion.
As for the bounty issue, the NFL brought this to our attention in March. But here we are in September, still talking about it with no real end in sight. That is also not good for the game.
The league has to realize that at this point it needs to put these stories behind them and can do so in a way where no one will think they caved. The officials have missed two game checks. That hurts them. The good of the game has to trump the NFL insisting on being right. Another week can’t happen with officials that no one wants to see out there.
Likewise, the NFL has already made its point about its no-tolerance policy for bounties. Gregg Williams may never coach again, and Sean Payton has to stay away from the Saints for an entire year. The message has been sent—no bounties. Then, to get the focus back on the field, the NFL should find a way to make a deal with these players to end this.
Again, sometimes being happy—with being happy here being the good of the game—is more important than being right. I’m not saying the NFL is right in its stance with the officials or the Saints players. But even if they are, we are long past the point of that mattering.
I worry that the NFL is confusing attention with approval—because the ratings for these games have not declined, then fans must approve of how the league is handling these situations.
Or perhaps even worse, that the league simply does not care about perception of off-the-field distractions, so long as fans keep buying tickets and watching on TV. That is a theory behind the NHL lockout—that their fans will always come back, so the league does not care about perception. I will just say this to Roger Goodell—if your handling of your sport is being compared to that of Gary Bettman and the NHL, it is not something to be proud of.
I am not going to criticize the replacement refs. They have been put in an impossible situation and are under a microscope in a way no other officials in any sport ever have been. I certainly wish someone would question the NBA officials the way these replacement refs have been questioned.
But the replacements are a major distraction. They are a built-in excuse for a missed play, a team’s loss. The league has to see this and must put an end to the lockout. The NFL is a billion-dollar league—the integrity of the game, of possibly the season, has to be worth something.
The same is true for the Saints bounty story, which the league has mismanaged from day-one. For six months we have heard about Bountygate. David Stern managed to handle the Tim Donaghy scandal in what seemed like an instant and allowed the NBA to move on. Goodell needs to take a page from Stern—address the problem and move on.
I want to enjoy the games. I want to watch the NFL Network, and read Peter King, and listen to Mike & Mike, without nonstop focus on the officials and without hearing about a bounty story that has been ongoing for nearly half a year. I just want to get back to football. And I am certain I am not alone.
So, Roger Goodell. Being right in your negotiating stance with the officials, and being right in your punishments, is not worth another month, another week, even another day, of these stories that have nothing to do with the performance of the players on the field. I'd even take analysis on how the Jets will use Tim Tebow over hearing anything again about replacement officials or bounties.
Don Banks knows more about football than I could ever dream to know. He said the NFL wants the focus on the players. If true, it is time for that to matter.