While Goodell has been one of the key people responsible for the NFL’s explosive popularity and thus made the league a multi-billion dollar business, the man’s decision-making process seems to be rather confusing. For our first piece of evidence I submit Goodell’s mishandling of the NFL referee’s lockout. I won’t get into which side was “right” or “wrong” but will simply focus on the fact that Goodell knew well in advance of the lockout that there was trouble brewing, and he did nothing to insure that the NFL had a qualified group of officials waiting in the wings in the event of such a lockout. The result? A travesty of officiating that still may impact the playoff landscape for the 2012 season.
As a second piece of evidence, I point you to the bounty scandal involving the New Orleans Saints. Did the Saints use a system that violated league rules? Absolutely. Should coaches and players have been suspended and/or fined? Absolutely. So why is the league in a position where its case against the players involved is melting? It is chiefly due to the fact the Goodell thought that he could act by proclamation and without challenge, failed to present a compelling case, and acted without regard for due process. Information has only been provided after the fact, and generally is incomplete.
Finally, we have the most recent piece of Goodell’s bone-headedness. In an interview with Time magazine, Goodell proposed eliminating kick-offs and replacing them with giving the “kicking” team the ball at their own 30 yard line with an automatic fourth and fifteen, thus giving the team the choice to go for it or to punt. What?
My immediate reactions to this puzzler are best articulated by former NFL VP for officiating Mike Pereira, who called the proposal “ridiculous”. Pereira looked at the impact that kickoff returners have had on the game historically, noting Gale Sayers, Brian Mitchell, and Devin Hester, as well as David Wilson’s monster return performance yesterday that sparked the Giants in their rout of the Saints. I will add to this the impact of the onside kick; think back to the Saints’ onside kick in Super Bowl XLIV, which stunned the Colts and turned the momentum in favor of the Saints. It was one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history.
And Roger Goodell wants to eliminate it.
Yes. kickoffs are one of the most dangerous aspects of a dangerous sport. So where does it end? Rob Gronkowski broke his arm on an extra point play, so I guess those should go as well. Just make teams get the ball in the end zone from the two and a half yard line for the extra point. And we know that quarterbacks and receivers have had the rules skewed in their favor in the past few years in order to protect those players who are at most risk, so it just makes sense, in the interest of player safety, to eliminate the forward pass from the game entirely. No more roughing the passer, and no more illegal hits on defenseless receivers. The number of concussions should come down dramatically. Just run the ball, play after play. But we also want to be careful about illegal blocks and head shots, so hitting can only take place in the baseball “strike zone” from above the knees to the armpits. There… now the game should be much safer. And just to make it easier, targets will be painted on the front and back of each jersey. This not only makes it much easier for the defensive player to know where they can hit, but also provides a natural marketing opportunity for Target stores. Roger should be very happy with that.
I am not normally one of the Bud-drinking (I prefer imports, unless it’s a Sam Adams seasonal) crowd who bemoans that we should just put skirts on the players and turn it into flag football. Frankly, that crowd is populated with people who think that professional wrestling is real and to whom the show “Cops” is a family documentary. But the guise of player safety seems to be making some of these folks seem pretty reasonable compared to Goodell.
What do I mean by the guise of player safety?
I am absolutely convinced that Goodell is far more concerned about lawsuits than he is the actual safety of the player. If Goodell had such conscience about player safety and long-term player health, then why are former players being forced to sue the NFL to get the league to accept culpability for player injuries and assist with medical care? And why would the NFL protect quarterbacks and receivers while allowing cut blocks that jeopardize the careers of defensive players? As Jared Allen said, “My knee is just as valuable as Tom Brady’s”, and he is right.
Football will always be a dangerous sport, and I am all in favor of rules that mitigate the risk involved for players, but that maintain the integrity of the game. Eliminating the kickoff, to me, is a horrible idea that unnecessarily alters the substance of the game itself, and it takes away an exciting play that can often change momentum and even the outcome. The league’s rule changes have already reduced the number of kickoff returns, making an effort like the one we saw from Wilson yesterday even more special. Concussions and injuries are down on kickoffs, and will continue to go down with additional tweaks to the rules. Add to that improvements in equipment and penalizing, fining, and suspending players for illegal hits, and we will see injuries minimized in what is by nature a violent contact sport.
If the NFL Competition Committee knows what’s good for the game, they will pass on Goodell’s proposal, and focus on more serious ways to improve the game.