For sake of full disclosure, I’m a big fan of NFL football – the rivalries, the loyalty of the fans, the final-second plays that lead to victories and upsets. What I’m not a fan of is the off-the-field behavior that has dominated headlines early in this season.
In a league as large as the NFL, there’s bound to be a few bad seeds in the bunch. But the gravity of these allegations – domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual assault and more – have put a spotlight on the NFL’s inability to control bad behavior. Sure, the league issued fines and suspensions – but for the most part, those sorts of punishments are just for show. As soon as a player makes a big play on the field, the coaches, the owners, the league – and even the fans – are quick to forgive.
But as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has learned in recent weeks, there’s no touchdown or interception out there – no matter how dramatic – that is going to give the NFL a free pass on this latest controversy.
That’s why Goodell, the guy who stands where the buck stops, held a press conference to announce the efforts that he’s taking to… actually, we don’t really know what he’s going to do to make things better. He talked about making mistakes and learning from them. He mentioned something about committees and policies and changes that should be in place by the Super Bowl.
It’s no wonder that Goodell’s face was splattered across newspaper tabloids with headlines that read: “That’s it?”
Goodell summoned the press because his old-stand-by actions of issuing meaningless fines and minor suspensions wasn’t enough to make all of this go away. By the time he faced the press, the story had shifted away from the players and their bad behavior. Instead, the public had made Goodell the face of the controversy.
Goodell missed an opportunity to make things right with that press conference. He could have stepped up and talked about zero tolerance policies and mandatory training programs that were being put into place across the league, effective immediately. Instead, he went on and on about making mistakes and how changes were coming – months from now, once we get to the end of the season and fans start shifting their attention.
Earlier this year, I chimed in about the controversy surrounding the now-former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling. At the time, I noted that the boss – even if he’s the owner of a professional sports team – always answers to someone. There is no free pass against bad behavior, no matter who you are. Fast forward to today and the Sterling is no longer the owner of the Clippers.
It kind of makes me wonder if Goodell is next to go.
Maybe it’s unfair to compare Goodell to Sterling. After all, Sterling let garbage spew from his mouth and then made no apology for it. Goodell, by contrast, hasn’t been videotaped smacking a woman around in an elevator.
But, in the court of public opinion, is there any difference?
It’s never good when the boss gets busted spewing racist remarks. But some might say it’s even worse when the boss knows about bad behavior – and then seems to turn a blind-eye to it. You might argue that point with me – but, perception is a real thing. And it definitely matters.
Let’s be honest. Goodell’s press conference had nothing to do with the off-the-field actions of its players. It had nothing to do with Goodell’s softball response to those actions. No, this press conference was all about Goodell saving his job and saving face for the league.
Given his handling of the entire situation, it seems that the only way the league can save face on this one is to start thinking about a new commissioner, someone who will get it right when it matters most.