The NFL is under siege. Outside the walls Roger Goodell can hear his detractors at the doors, the windows, from the roof, and from the basement demanding his removal as commissioner of the NFL. He has now made enemies of the female advocacy groups, children’s advocacy groups, the NFLPA, sponsors, media outlets, and his league’s own fan base. And if that isn’t enough Goodell is still dealing with rampant PED use in his league, the FCC, and a concussion problem. Despite being at odds on so many fronts Goodell’s confidence in himself and the league remain intact. But if the 32 owners want their league to remain viable into the next few decades they’ll find a replacement for the NFL’s current commissioner.
At the forefront of Goodell’s miriad of problems is his handling of Ray Rice’s suspension. Whether or not Roger Goodell saw the tape of Ray Rice and his fiancé remains unanswered. What is clear though is Roger Goodell’s total lack of foresight and his inability to adjust to the changing climate around his league. Goodell missed the hints of a changing landscape last year, when the public and media called for Richie Incognito’s dismisal from the Dolphins, and preceded to execute Ray Rice’s punishment with a business as usual attitude.
Instead of recognizing the public’s heated reaction to the original video of Ray Rice dragging his unconscious, then fiancé, out of a casino elevator and levying a more severe punishment on Rice, putting the ounus of defending Rice on the NFLPA he opted for a two game suspension of the Ravens running back. The move to give Rice a lengthy suspension isn’t chess. It’s hardly checkers. It’s tic-tac-toe, and Goodell missed it.
Goodell’s obtuse decision making skills aren’t entirely his fault though. He started his NFL career while Pete Rozelle was commissionor and began to rise up the ranks while his predecessor Paul Taglibue was head of the NFL. As Louisa Thomas at Grantland pointed out, NFL players and run-ins with the law are nothing new. Goodell watched while Taglibue handed out minimal punishments to players like Leonard Little, who killed a woman while driving intoxicated, or Ray Lewis who was charged with obstruction of justice during an investigation of a double murder. There were dozens of DUI arrests, domestic violence charges, and weapons charges all under Taglibue’s watch and we,the public, said nothing. We just demanded more football.
Even during Goodell’s tenure as commissioner starting in 2006 the public didn’t jump down his throat for failing to properly discipline domestic violence abusers like Michael Pittman, and a repeated criminal offender like Adam “Pacman” Jones. We still demanded more football. So when it came time to discipline Ray Rice, Goodell pulled out the old commissioner’s playbook and handed out his two game suspension thinking, we would all once again ask for more football.
Something changed though and whether it be a copy of the video of Rice’s crime, the emergence of a more diversified media, the rise of social media, fan fatigue of NFL players committing crimes, or some combination of them all Goodell failed to recognize that the world around him had changed. It’s almost the equivalent of taking an American president from the 1800’s and putting in the Oval Office in 2014. Roger Goodell is a 1990’s commissioner in charge of a 2014 NFL. Goodell’s actions, or lack thereof, have proven he is too ill-equipped and uninformed to preserve the integrity of NFL.
Yet Roger Goodell’s 32 bosses remain by his side, at least publicly despite Goodell turning Ray Rice into the virtuous one. This shouldn’t shock anyone though. Much like Goodell the owners in Minnesota, Carolina, and Baltimore all failed to react before the tidal wave of public opinion crashed on their heads.
Goodell’s supporters point toward the enormous economic growth of the league while he has held the title of commissionor. But what those staunch Goodell backers have forgotten to ask themselves is whether or not the growth of the league’s bank account is due to Goodell and his vision or circumstances outside of the league offices control. Since Roger Goodell took over the television medium has changed drastically. With the increasing popularity of video on demand, DVR, and Netflix live television events, like sports, have become gold for the networks because in order to be part of the conversation you need to watch the event live leading to large ad dollars for the NFL. It is the demand for live programming that has led to the astronomical television deals with the NFL, not Roger Goodell.
In his eight years as commissioner what has Goodell done to grow the game of football? The only ideas to come out of the league office have been to lengthen the NFL Draft, expand the playoffs, lengthen the regular season schedule, play a handful of games in London, and greenlight the NFL’s involvement in the horrendous sports movie Draft Day. Not one thing to come out of Goodell’s office has led to growing the game of football. In factparticipation in youth football has gone down in recents years according to a November 2013 article published by ESPN.
And with football starting to show signs of eroding at the junior level, maybe Goodell and the NFL’s most greatest adversary is just off the horizon. Soccer. Amid the flurry of NFL stories a small, but substantial article was lost in the shuffle. According to SI.com Drake Davis, a 2016 football prospect with offers from Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Alabama has chosen to focus efforts on soccer, despite attending known high school football powerhouse Fork Union Military Academy. Maybe Drake Davis is an anomaly or maybe this is just the beginning.
The World Cup saw record numbers this year though. ESPN, Fox, and NBC are all covering soccer now including the MLS, English Premier League, and the Champions League. Soccer is conducive to the lifestyle of most sports fans in 2014. The action is constant and over in and hour and a half or two hours max. We can schedule a viewing in between going to the gym and picking up groceries. As an Ohio State alum and son of an Ohio native I never thought I’d become a fan of soccer. But low and behold this past Saturday I found myself watching Liverpool play Aston Villa once OSU had gone up 31–0 on Kent State.
Judging previous decisions made by the NFL and Roger Goodell I’d guess they don’t view soccer as any sort of threat to their league. Maybe the only trait more apparent than Goodell and the league’s lack of action in any and all matters is their hubris. The NFL’s arrogance is not so dissimilar from another major entity, the big banks on Wall Street, who watched the world around them crash in 2007 because they were too blinded by their own arrogance to believe that the housing market would ever go down. History has continued to teach us that no industry, empire, or individual is bullet proof. There is always the fall.
The sport of kings has all but vanished and America’s pastime has been put on life support. The end of the NFL and football in America may be inevitable, but if the NFL wants to remain relevant for as long as possible they’ll need to look beyond the six inches in front of their face. That change in attitude starts at the top.