I've been a major supporter of Roger Goodell's efforts to "reform" the NFL over the past few years—the player conduct policy, the crackdown on "questionable" hits, the admission (finally) that there is a link between repeated concussions and serious medical conditions.
These reforms highlight what makes Goodell such an effective commissioner: He is a businessman first and a football fan second.
He makes decisions dispassionately, objectively considering the costs and benefits of each alternative and coming to a well-reasoned conclusion.
In many ways, Goodell is like a stern father to the NFL players, maybe not loved, but certainly respected and feared. However, like any father, Goodell sometimes allows his emotions to overtake his rationality, and the result (all too often) is a conflicting at best or contradictory at worst message.
You're probably wondering where all of this is going, so I'll tell you: This is headed straight for the issues of player accountability and player safety.
During the Week 2 Sunday night game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons, there were a number of questionable hits.
Both QBs (especially Philadelphia's Mike Vick) were hit late and below the knees. Both teams made helmet-to-helmet hits on opposing players at various points during the game.
Before we continue, it's important to make a distinction between a hard-fought, physical game and a "cheap" game.
There are games where the action is brutally physical: games where two big, strong teams try to impose their will on one another for 60 minutes.
There is nothing wrong with those games. But then there are games where one (or both) teams repeatedly engage in illegal or questionable behavior (late hits, illegal hits, etc.) in order to gain an advantage. Everything is wrong with those games.
The matchup between the Eagles and the Falcons was the latter. In particular, I want to draw attention to blatantly illegal hit by the Falcons' CB Dunta Robinson on the Eagles' WR Jeremy Maclin.
Robinson launched himself, helmet first, into Maclin's head. Thankfully, the play did not result in an injury to either player.
But if that description sounds familiar, it's because the same Robinson laid the same hit on Eagles' WR DeSean Jackson last season. That hit resulted in concussions for both players.
Robinson was fined a measly $25K for the first hit ($50K initially, reduced on appeal) and $40K for the most recent hit on Maclin.
This is where Goodell's hypocrisy emerges. He has stated numerous times that both players, coaches and clubs will be held accountable for failures to follow the rules in place to protect players.
He wrote in a recent memo to all 32 teams that all involved parties (players, coaches and clubs) are subject to disciple for supporting or encouraging players who violate player safety rules.
The whole world now knows Goodell is a hypocrite.
Immediately after the game, Falcons' coach Mike Smith said Robinson's blatantly illegal hit was "completely legal" and done "the way we teach it."
That sounds a lot like Smith was supporting behavior that violates numerous well-established player safety rules. It also sounds a lot like a comment that at the very least deserves a hefty fine, not the laughable $25K or $50K fines the league has been handing out.
If Goodell is serious about player safety (and for his sake and the sake of the NFL's finances, he better be), he needs to crack down now and crack down hard.
That means protecting more than just white QBs. It means protecting all of the players.
For a repeat offender like Dunta Robinson, it means a mandatory suspension of at least one game, followed by a hefty fine of at least $250K or 10 percent of the players' full salary, whichever is less.
That policy must apply to everyone in the NFL equally. The referees must be instructed to eject a player like Robinson for deliberately attempting to injure the opposition's best player.
If Goodell is serious about player safety, he needs to step up and start enforcing rules fairly. He needs to summon the courage to do the right thing, to make the right business decision.
He needs to put his love for the game aside and do what is objectively right for the NFL's business.
The longer "cheap" play like this is encouraged (yes, that is what token penalties are) by the NFL, the more likely one of the many lawsuits filed on behalf of current and retired players will gain traction.
When that happens (not if), the settlements will be in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.
I don't care what business you're in. If you have to pay out those sums of money, the bottom line will not look good. And that will be the end of Goodell's time as commissioner.
Goodell should practice what he preaches. Take player safety seriously. Stop being a hypocrite without the courage to follow through on the edicts you issue.
If you don't, the courts will do it for you sooner or later. I'm betting it will be sooner.
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