If you watched the opening game of the NFL season, you may have noticed a familiar scene. Tom Brady threw for 288 yards and four touchdowns to help the New England Patriots defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21 to start their title defense. It was business as usual.
However, Tom Brady was never supposed to be on the field. Brady was suspended for the first four games of the season until a judge overruled the suspension.
The NFL has a history of issues regarding the way it handles player discipline. Commissioner Roger Goodell has complete control over the process. He has the power to suspend players and is also responsible for hearing their appeals. In the past, players have gone through the court system because they do not believe they have been treated fairly. When one man has all the power without anybody to check on his work it is easy to question if he has crossed any lines.
Brady was suspended by the league as a result of the Patriots being accused of deflating balls below the minimum PSI, during the AFC championship this past January. The NFL hired an independent investigator, Ted Wells, to investigate the situation. In his report, Wells reported, “it is more probable than not that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.”
After the NFLPA and Brady lost their original appeal when Goodell upheld the suspension, they brought the case to a New York district court. The judge determined that the NFL did not properly investigate originally and therefore did not have enough proof to suspend Brady.
Goodell is facing a crisis; his authority is being questioned. Since being elected as commissioner by NFL owners in August 2006, Goodell has had complete control over player discipline. There have been many cases where his authority has been questioned by independent arbitrators and appeal panels, and many have begun to question the entire process that Goodell uses to discipline players.
After all, how can a player face equal punishment for possibly “being generally aware” of his team deflating footballs as a player who was punished for domestic abuse? The most famous examples of the latter are Ray Rice and Greg Hardy, who just had his suspension reduced from ten games to two.
The Race Rice case has risen the most question marks in regards to Goodell’s authority. Rice was originally suspended two games to start the 2014 NFL season for assaulting his fiancée at the time. A couple months later, after a video was released showing Rice assaulting his then-fiance, and there was public demand for a longer suspension and Rice was suspended indefinitely. The suspension was overturned and the NFL reinstated Rice in November. In the report in which the suspension was overruled, Judge Barbara Jones stated, “The Commissioner needed to be fair and consistent in his imposition of discipline.”
Not only was the suspension determined to be unfair, some questioned if Goodell knew about the video before suspending Rice originally. After reports surfaced that Goodell knew of the video, one unnamed owner told Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report, ” this is very bad for our league and for Roger. No owner will support him if this is true.”
On top of this, suspensions for four players involved in ‘Bountygate’ had their suspensions overturned. When your decisions are continuously proven to be too harsh after being reviewed, maybe another person should be in charge of determining suspensions.
The players did put themselves at risk during the last CBA negotiations when they allowed Goodell to be the one with all the power for future disciplinary issue. They could have fought harder to change the process so that either an independent arbitrator is required or for to create a committee to deal with player discipline.
Players aren’t the only ones who are getting upset with the Goodell. One of the most influential owners in the league, Robert Kraft, has publicly criticized Goodell. After Brady’s appeal was denied by the league, Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, said in a press conference, “I was wrong to put my faith in the league.” Kraft has been one of Goodell’s biggest allies as commissioner, so it is alarming to see him express these concerns.
This is not the first time Goodell has faced challenges of his authority Ray Rice was originally suspended two games to start the 2014 NFL season for assaulting his fiancée at the time. After a video was released their was public demand for a longer suspension and Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely. After the suspension was overturned the NFL reinstated Rice in November and he was eligible to sign with any team. In the report in which the suspension was overruled Judge Barbara Jones stated, “The Commissioner needed to be fair and consistent in his imposition of discipline.”
With more owners questioning Goodell, the pressure is mounting for him to either relinquish some of his disciplinary power, or risk being replaced as commissioner. Goodell has talked multiple times about “protecting the shield” and now his actions are damaging the reputation of the league. Fans and media are constantly questioning his decisions, and the focus is on him instead of on the football field.
It is important to note that Goodell has beneficial to the league in some ways. Goodell has almost doubled the annual profit since taking over in 2006 when the league made 6.54 billion dollars. The NFL generated the highest revenue of any sports league with 11 billion dollars of revenue in 2014, the next closest globally was MLB with nine billion dollars.
Don’t expect Goodell to be going anywhere anytime soon no matter how many problems he faces. He signed an extension in 2012 that guarantees his contract until the end of 2018 season. Unless Goodell folds under the pressure from the owners, which does not appear close to occurring, he will continue to rule with an iron fist. Well, at least until a neutral arbitrator reverses his decision.