If the Saints’ Bountygate situation were converted to football terms, Roger Goodell would have fumbled the snap.
In the mushrooming Ray Rice fiasco, the NFL commissioner has thrown a pick six that may ultimately scuttle his ability to govern sports’ most popular and increasingly most criticized organization.
The rest of the world now views Goodell the same way Saints fans have for the past two years: the tone deaf leader of a major professional sports organization who seems incapable of striking the right note when it comes to meting out discipline in the most high profile of situations impacting the NFL.
This is not to equate domestic violence with even the reprehensible specter of a pay-to-injure program. If you step onto a football field, you have to expect a reasonable possibility that you will be injured, even if no one is offering someone extra cash to do you harm.
If you’re a woman stepping into an elevator with the person who supposedly loves you most, you should never expect that you might wind up being knocked unconscious.
Goodell reacted rashly to suspend former Saints Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith for their roles in Bountygate.
That’s not just my view, but the finding of former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue when he was charged with ruling on the Saints’ appeals in the case. Tagliabue slammed his former right hand in the car door of public opinion by saying he engaged in “selective prosecution” and “selective enforcement” in vacating the players’ suspensions.
In what proved to be a miscarriage of justice even by vigilante standards, Goodell was trying to protect his league. When it came to the players’ suspensions, he felt justified, especially in the face of mounting legal pressure from former players claiming their time in the NFL contributed to a host of post-football health problems.
Goodell felt he had to be seen as being tough on crime, and the Saints happened to be the first miscreants to be dragged into his courtroom. Many Saints fans have accused Goodell of some sort of vendetta against their favorite franchise, but that would be to give “the commish” an undeserved measure of thoughtful and organizational credit.
Then comes the Rice situation. First, Goodell gives him a two-game suspension. Then, after a tidal wave of public backlash, he realizes he hasn’t been tough enough. Goodell beefs up the NFL domestic violence policy to a six-game suspension for a first-time offense and a lifetime ban for the second.
Again, though, Goodell’s message is muddled at best. A two- or even six-game suspension for domestic violence when Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon receives a season-long suspension for a second positive marijuana test?
Put aside for the moment that the NFL indefinitely suspended Rice on Monday AFTER the Baltimore Ravens fired him. Technically, Rice’s suspension violates Goodell’s new tough-talking domestic violence policy. Just a sample of the questionable policy being set at NFL headquarters.
This is not to say Ray Rice should ever be allowed to put on an NFL uniform again. Judging from the video inside the elevator of Rice punching his then fiancée Janay Palmer — a video that gossip website TMZ was able to smoke out but somehow the NFL said it couldn’t — Rice’s next uniform should be a prison jumpsuit.
What this growing mountain of contrarian evidence says is that Goodell is an ineffective leader in whom what confidence he ever had is eroding by the minute. The mountain grew Wednesday afternoon with The Associated Press reporting that a law enforcement official sent a copy of the Rice elevator video to NFL headquarters in April.
“The NFL has lost its way,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, in a statement Wednesday calling for Goodell to resign.
Former NFL and current ESPN broadcaster Mark Schlereth nearly broke down in tears as he said the league had let him and “every fan in America who loves this game down.”
“This was so brutally botched from Day 1,” Schlereth said. “Protecting the shield (NFL logo) means we’re supposed to honor and understand the privilege of playing in the league, not cover up our mistakes.”
Under Goodell, the bigger the issues get, the worse they seem to be handled.
It’s time to let someone else be the quarterback.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.