Roger Goodell Must Get the Real Officials Back to Protect the Shield

Stew WinkelSenior Analyst ISeptember 25, 2012

It is a little after 9 a.m. as I write this.

It is the morning after replacement officials screwed up a call that cost the Green Bay Packers a game they absolutely should have won.

It is the morning after replacement officials on the same play blatantly missed offensive pass interference by the player who did not really catch the ball but who they said caught it.

And it is the morning after replacement officials brought another NFL game to a grinding halt with 24 penalties, which does not nearly account for the missed calls, wrong calls, and total lack of control.

But don’t worry, at some point later today, the NFL plans to issue a press release.

Not exactly leadership if you ask me.

We have heard Roger Goodell say that his main duty as commissioner is “protecting the shield.” Yet, game after game, week after week, we have watched this disastrous, albeit predictable, situation play out with hardly a word from Goodell. As Sundays get ruined, as the shield is being tarnished, where has the commissioner been?

While the league and the officials fight it out over a few million dollars, Goodell sits silently. Goodell, who by the way, had his own salary doubled this past offseason to a reported $20 million per season, would rather see these outmatched officials fail than find a way to bridge the relatively small gap that exists between the real officials and the league.

But despite his salary (which dwarfs what even most players make), suddenly we are hearing today that it isn’t really Goodell’s fault. He can’t make a deal. It is up to the owners.

I understand Goodell works for the owners, technically, but so does David Stern. No one dares question who actually runs the NBA. The same obviously can’t be said of Goodell.

The real problem is Goodell wants it both ways. When it comes to his “crusade” to fine players for everything possible, he wants to be seen as the man in charge. When it comes to handing out discipline against players, he wants to be seen as the no-nonsense, what I say goes, tough-guy commissioner.

Now, when there is a real problem that actually impacts the shield, Goodell chooses not to be seen, or heard, at all. 

In case you had not noticed before, the lockout of the officials has been very revealing as to who exactly Goodell is.

He is a bully. He does not hesitate to flex his muscle in dealings with the players. Same for coaches, who have to stand on their own against the league (such as the cruel and unusual punishment Goodell inflicted on Sean Payton). He clearly thought he could push around these officials and that he could push around the fans to not care.

But like most bullies, he is not really tough when it counts – there is no chance he will ever stand up to the owners in this situation to get a deal done. What is he afraid of? The owners do have control over if he remains in his job, but he has the protection of his massive contract. And plus, didn’t you say Roger your main priority was protecting the shield? How is cowering in silence on an issue plaguing your sport protecting the shield?

Goodell’s inaction on the referees as each game ticks by shows either an alarming indifference or ignorance. Either he does not care about the calamity everyone else sees on the field or he is too stupid to understand the damage being done to the sport.

What then is guiding Goodell’s inept handling of this lockout? Money and ego.

The money part is obvious. The NFL that basically prints money realizes every cent given to anyone else is less for the league, less for the owners, and less for Goodell.

And ego? This standoff is also about Goodell being angry the officials won’t just stop in their tracks to thank him for letting them be a part of his NFL.

We already know money and ego fuel most of what Goodell does. He secured that massive contract for himself only a few months after the deal with the players where he insisted that he be the ultimate decider on most issues. Of course, not on issues of who officiates the games.

I imagine greed in terms of money and ego is a necessary quality to some extent for someone running any company, let alone the NFL. But it can’t be the only quality. There also has to be intelligence and leadership. Those appear to be qualities this commissioner is sadly lacking.

With the replacement officials, we are seeing no leadership and no intelligence out of the league. The last few weeks, as the criticisms have grown, and the impact on actual games has become clearer, Goodell has not had the intelligence to know what to say or the leadership to actually get something done. (He can't even offer an apology to fans the way Aaron Rodgers did).

I don’t begrudge anyone earning any amount of money they can. But when you get paid as much as Goodell does, there are also expectations. Unfortunately, Goodell is proving to lack even basic competency.

It is time for him to earn that salary.

Any commissioner can hand out fines and make some statements and appear on TV. But the league is now in a crisis. If the owners are standing in the way, a real leader would do something about it. Staying silent cannot be an option. Allowing these games to be officiated by amateurs can no longer be an option.

Roger Goodell, it is time for your words to matter. It is time for you to actually protect the shield. If you are incapable of that, it's time then for you to go.