Since Roger Goodell has taken over as NFL commissioner he has demonstrated a commitment to player safety and a devotion to growing the NFL brand, most notably by moving the NFL draft to prime time and proposing an 18-game schedule.
Given those facts, it is easy to make assumptions about the motives of Goodell. But this is where I draw the line.
Goodell’s recent crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits and the subsequent fines show Goodell’s determination to make the game safer. James Harrison was fined $75,000 for being aggressive and trying to get the ball carrier down, which is what he is paid to do.
Recently Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan broke into an on-field brawl, which resulted in helmet’s being thrown off and Johnson landing a few hard hits on Finnegan. It was reminiscent of a hockey fight. Surely Goodell, with his recent push for player safety and overall concern for the NFL’s image, would demonstrate that this type of childish action will not be allowed in the NFL.
But because Johnson and the Texans were set to play NFL Network's Thursday Night Football game, they decided to fine Johnson $25,000 and not suspend him at all.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter said the reason the NFL didn’t suspend Johnson for the upcoming game was because it would put the Texans at a competitive disadvantage when playing the Eagles on a Thursday night game that just happened to be scheduled to air on NFL Network.
How can Goodell justify fining Harrison $75,000 for just trying to do his job and unintentionally hurting a player, but fine Johnson only $25,000 for getting into a brawl on the field in the middle of a game and punching an opposing player three times on national television?
To top that he didn’t suspend Johnson at least one game to set an example because his next game was on NFL Network and Goodell doesn’t want to hurt his own network’s ratings.
So Goodell cares more about television ratings and money than he does about player safety or on-field conduct policies. Goodell has just revealed his list of priorities; player safety is near the top of the list, right after money and television ratings.
In this new light, it seems the reasoning behind Goodell’s push for player safety and an 18-game schedule is only in the interests of making more money; only, it's at the expense of the integrity of the game and the player’s ability to truly compete. With this kind of player safety the NFL could easily add two more games because no one will be able to hit anyone hard for fear of a flag and subsequent fine.
When will Goodell realize that we don’t want his NFL, we want our NFL. Referees should only get involved so often—they have enough judgment calls to make without worrying about player safety. In fact, I worry they spend so much time looking for rough hits that they miss crucial holding and pass interference calls.
The NFL was growing and making money exponentially, long before Goodell and his new policies arrived. The game was perfect until Goodell’s apparent lust for more and more money started to cheapen the on-field product and rob teams and fans of the true spirit of competition.
If Goodell knows what is good for him, he will lessen his grip and let the players play. No one man is bigger than the game of football. I would sooner see Goodell fired, than have even a shred of dignity taken away from the game we have all come to love.
If the integrity of the game is to be protected, it may have to come in the way of a player strike or even a lockout. Sooner or later Goodell will have to make a choice, more money or no money? Then he will realize he must stop. The game will sell itself, all he does is get in the way.