Worst Decisions of the Roger Goodell Era

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIIOctober 21, 2011

Worst Decisions of the Roger Goodell Era

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    An article in Bloomberg Business Week calls NFL commissioner Roger Goodell the "most powerful man in sports." They are probably right.

    Goodell started out as an intern in the public relations department at the NFL headquarter offices in 1982 and rose up the ranks to become the most powerful commissioner of all major sports in America.

    Every decision that Goodell makes help to establish a precedent—both good and bad—then all future decisions are compared to his earlier choices. He says he stays up many nights thinking about ways to keep the NFL functioning as strong as it possibly can.

    With so many things to stay on top of, it is not difficult to think that he may be spread too thin at times and that certain things may get lost in the shuffle. Many of his decisions are instantly panned for being either too harsh, or too soft, with people weighing in at both sides of the scale simultaneously. Obviously you won't be able to please everyone all the time, and that goes with the territory.

    Goodell has been forced to make many decisions and plays a major role in the landscape of the league since he succeeded Paul Tagliabue on 9/1/2006. He is now in his sixth year of the job, and today we are going to take a look at some moves generally considered to be the worst decisions of Goodell's tenure.

NFL Regular Season Games in Europe

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    Why do the Chicago Bears and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to travel to Europe to play a football game? For one thing, as the technical "home" team in London, Tampa Bay fans just lost one of their eight home games of the year. The Bucs fans also lose out on seeing a visiting Bears team at Raymond James Stadium.

    If the NFL is determined to grow the game internationally, that is fine, you can use the preseason for that. But I just don't understand the need to do it in the regular season.

    We all recall the tragic plane crash of the Russian hockey team this past September. Why would you feel the need to unnecessarily expose NFL teams to extended flights over the Atlantic?

    The only international expansion that makes even the slightest bit of sense, in my opinion, is the decision of the Buffalo Bills to play one regular season game in Toronto for a five-year stretch in an attempt to widen their northeastern fanbase. That has been met with much grumbling from Bills fans, but the Bills would much rather have sell-outs than a bunch of empty seats.

    The World League/NFL Europe/NFL Europa came to an end in June 2007, which happened on Goodell's watch. That was a good thing—playing regular season games in Europe is where I draw the line. Bad call.

Many Rules or Decisions Lack Consistency for All Players

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    Many fans wondered what Goodell would do when the new CBA was ratified and the NFL lifted the labor lockout for the 2011 season. There were roughly 20 players that violated the personal conduct policy from the prior offseason, and everyone wondered what the terms of their suspension would be.

    The case of Cedric Benson is an interesting one. Benson was a repeat offender of the NFL's personal conduct policy, and because of prior issues, everyone expected to see at least a three-game suspension handed out.

    Benson appealed the ruling and when the dust settled, his three-game suspension was dropped to one game. In the future, other multiple offenders will point to this one judgement and expect similar forgiveness.

    Goodell and league officials may ultimately regret the handling of Benson's case, as it may set an undesirable precedent.

Adam "Pacman" Jones

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    While the one-game versus three-game suspensions are reserved for violations of a minor degree, there are the one-year suspensions of Adam "Pacman" Jones that angered players and offended many others as way too harsh of a penalty. 

    Granted, Jones is not an angel; he has a way of finding trouble, or trouble finds him. Whether it is making bad choices, the places he decides to hang out at, or the poor choice of crowd he decides to hang with, Jones just can't stay out of the headlines. 

    The weirdest part of the suspension was that Goodell made his ruling against a player that had not been convicted of any crime (at that time).  There were shooting incidents, and felony charges, which are clearly serious offenses. Goodell ultimately decided to suspend Jones for the entire 2007 season. 

    The question some people ask is: Does Roger Goodell have too much power? How do you determine someone should be barred for one full year or season, when it is their livelihood we are talking about?

    To be sure, these are all tough decisions, and that is why Roger Goodell is often simultaneously praised and lambasted for his tough calls.

Ticket Prices, NFL on Cable and Owners Greed

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    Despite the hard economic times our country (and world) is facing, the NFL has not done enough to adjust to the times and make it more accessible to the fans. In fact, it continues to become even more expensive. 

    For starters, season-ticket holders are forced to buy preseason games they care nothing about—at full price. 

    Parking rates go up, concessions go up, and jerseys can easily cost north of $100. If you want to watch the NFL games on Thursday nights, you have to purchase the NFL Network from your cable provider or you are shut out.

    If families are having their homes foreclosed on, how are they going to afford tickets to games? And even though this is a terrible economic period, the NFL has stood firm on their archaic blackout laws.

    Goodell acts as a spokesperson for the owners, and we all know that the owners are in this to make money. Greed and power is part of every league, but only for a privileged few.  

    Goodell has been the main man for all the hard economic times the past five years. What the league has done (or not done) under his watch to make the sport more affordable is something I hold him accountable for. This slide does not come under the title of "worst decision," but rather "worst non-decision of import."

Spygate and Tampering Charges

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    We all recall the infamous Spygate incident where Commissioner Goodell stripped the New England Patriots of a first-round draft pick for covertly filming New York Jets coaches and signals during game time. Then there was the mysterious film that disappeared, but nothing was done about it.

    The act of taking a high or low-round draft pick away from a team is a serious thing. What kind of a violation warrants a first-round draft pick, as opposed to, say, a fifth-round pick?  Well here are two specific examples.

    Goodell strips Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots of a first-round pick for filming the Jets signals. Later, Goodell deems that the San Francisco 49ers were found guilty of tampering with Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, by calling his agent Drew Rosenhaus How often does this act of unfairly influencing a free agent's decision happen, and how often has it resulted in the loss of a draft pick? 

    Some of these rulings are probably simply meant to be a warning to the rest of the league, but for the guilty party, it is more than just a warning. It is one thing to be made an example of, it is another to have the future of your organization compromised. 

    Was the integrity of the game altered by the 49ers' calls to Rosenhaus? If so, why just a fifth-round pick as punishment? These are the things that, on the surface, appear somewhat random (the severity or judgement of the fine or penalty), so it is up to the commissioner to sort out what is proper. But how does he reach that final judgement? 

Fines for Violent Hits

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    It seemed like every time Steeler LB James Harrison suited up in 2010, his wallet kept getting lighter and lighter. There was a series of games where Harrison was reprimanded, with the amount of fine continuing to escalate from one incident to another.

    The picture here is that of Harrison's hit on Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that led to a $25,000 fine. Prior to that, he had already paid out $100,000 in fines—a direct result of his playing style.

    Shortly after that contest, I had occasion to conduct an interview of Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly for Bleacher Report, and we discussed that play in particular.

    Kelly stated that he thought the play was a legal hit and that Harrison should never have been fined. I am sure Kelly didn't want to see Fitzpatrick laid out, but he also comes from a different era, when quarterbacks were routinely laid out by defenses. 

    With the speed of the current NFL game, I don't understand how players are expected to be able to stop on a dime and shut down their pass rush when they are sprinting full speed at a quarterback. These guys are now usually 300-plus pounds and only getting larger. When you get that much mass moving at such high speeds, they can only stop so quick.

    I think there are times that Harrison leads with his helmet, and other times when he is unjustifiably flagged and punished.

    The hits in the NFL are a major reasons for its popularity. If you restrict too much of the physical nature of the game, you will kill an important part of the game. 

NFL Stands for "No Fun League"

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    Remember the days when teams used to get flagged for excessive end-zone celebrations? They would score a touchdown and come up with some choreographed routine where all the member would perform some kind of a dance or an act. Those days are long gone, and we wonder if they will ever come back. 

    If you would like to see some videos of these now-extinct touchdown rituals, here is a Bleacher Report article from contributor Adam Ferguson that will jog your memory of how the NFL used to be—which was, in a word, fun. 

    We are seeing the rest of the NFL copying the Lambeau Leap, and that is a way to better involve the players with fans. I also see more players handing out footballs after a touchdown, which is another neat way to connect. 

    But, as long as Goodell continues to find ways to police the game that makes it less enjoyable for the fans, it is very unwise for the league. 

Tired of the Ticky-Tack Fines

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    As a Bills fan growing up, I don't remember the players ever being fined for any T-shirts they wore or for face paint they donned. My how times have changed. 

    Just in the last two years I've witnessed Goodell fining two Bills players for incredibly meaningless reasons. Running back Fred Jackson, the current No. 2 rusher in the league, was fined for writing "DIII" in his eye black. The "DIII" stands for Division III, since Jackson played his college ball at Coe College, a Division III school. Jackson was fined $5,000 for the act. 

    The sad part is that he had been wearing the same thing every game since breaking in to the league. He had done the same thing for almost three full seasons until the fine came out of the blue, without any warning. That is the type of bogus stuff that would drive me nuts. 

    We all recall the "Batman & Robin" show in Cincinnati with Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. The Bills went into Cincinnati and beat them, with the highlight being wide receiver Stevie Johnson revealing his t-shirt to reveal the "Why So Serious" slogan he wrote. Sure enough, Goodell fined him $5,000 for that little act as well.

NFL Cracks Down on Tailgaiting Too?

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    When is enough, enough? I flew back to Buffalo recently to attend the Week 5 contest between the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles. For any NFL fan that has ever attended a game in Buffalo, you know that Bills fans are among the NFL's best in tailgating. The Eagles game was no exception, as fans lined up early to get in the proper mood for the big game. 

    However, the NFL is now starting to dictate how tailgating is to be done. When will all the dictating end? I recognize that the NFL would like games to be family friendly, and I think that is a good thing. Having attended plenty of Los Angeles Dodgers games in my years in Los Angeles, there was a family section where parents could safely bring and enjoy the game with the entire family. That works well, and could easily be implemented in NFL stadiums as well. 

    But the changes were upsetting to a number of Buffalo fans and tailgaters, as it prevented some from entering their favorite parking lots they had been using for years. I can't speak for other NFL cities, but maybe our Bleacher Report community around the country can share some of their experiences along that line. 

    Just for the record: I want to make sure that people know I do not condone the actions that went on between Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers in the parking lot this preseason. But, there are only eight regular season home games a year (unless you are in Buffalo or Tampa Bay), so there has to some kind of a happy medium that makes sense. 

Brett Favre and Jenn Sterger

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    The other incident that should not be overlooked was the lack of discipline handed down to Brett Favre over the Jenn Sterger sexting incident. 

    Favre deserved some sort of suspension from the league, but Goodell decided not to dole out anything more than a meaningless fine. It is the inconsistent way things are handled, no pun intended, with Favre that gets most people upset about the commissioner's office. 

    Favre was ridiculed publicly, as well as he should have, but this was just one more opportunity where Goodell could have stepped up and done what was right, but he fumbled the ball. 

Dennis Miller View

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    I was watching the NFL Network today, and on the Rich Eisen Podcast, he had comedian Dennis Miller as a guest. Eisen asked Miller what his thoughts were on the season so far, and Miller took the ball and ran with it. He gave his assessment on where he viewed the league was headed under the charge of Roger Goodell. 

    Regarding the Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz handshake: "Dug the whole thing. I guarantee the players were howling about it. The league has gotten so antiseptic. I dug this action and I could tell the league digs it subtly too. The league has some headaches about becoming too politically correct. The fact that they didn't drop fines on these guys tells you that Goodell said listen: 'No harm, no foul.'"

    Regarding Jason Campbell's injury: "The arena is patently cruel throughout history, because that is where the greatness is to be seized. You're not Maximus unless you can take a broad sword upside the head. You get into that arena and there is "great-greatness". There's immortality to be had there. You can be Bambi (Lance Alworth), and they talk about you for the rest of time. You can also get your knee blown out. That's the vigorish. That's the juice." 

    Miller continued on:  "That what I hope Goodell doesn't forget about the league. I'm not going over there each week to watch the G.E. College Bowl with Allen Ludden. I'm talking about big humans careening at high rates of speed and going for immortality. That what that league, (NFL) is about." 

Tripgate and the Harbaugh Handshake

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    It is funny (in a strange way) how the league will turn a blind eye to actions that affect on-field play (like "Tripgate"), or to events that bring into question the sportsmanship of opposing coaches in the Jim Harbaugh-Jim Schwartz incident from last weekend. 

    Some things Commissioner Goodell will let the individuals or teams work out on their own, while others he will swoop in on and declare that his word is final. Period. 

    It is the amount of power he can wield, when he wants to wield it, that is probably most frightening to everyone in the NFL in a position to potentially be impacted by the commissioner's decisions. 

    I, for one, would not want to have to make all the decisions he is in charge. But there are things we raised here today that bring into question just how much authority and power Goodell should really have—and what are some decisions has he made that are bad for both the short-term and long-term viability of the NFL? 

    We welcome the comments, thoughts and discussion from our NFL fans.

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