Wednesday, 26 September 2012 09:36

NFL’s Goodell can’t clown around with Replacement Refs, New Orleans Saints Bountygate

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clown2A Channel 6 sports reporter called last night to ask if I would comment on the legacy of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for the 10 pm news.



I was hesitant, not only because I know Goodell and even tried to hire him to take my place when I left the NFL Management Council for the Saints in 1986. The reason was that I was reluctant to feed the Who Dat frenzy that Goodell is to blame for Bountygate, the Saints' 0-3 start and probably the BP oil spill and a couple of assorted hurricanes.

     The latest condemnation of the Commissioner is the fact that he can't settle the game official’s lockout and end this weekly agony of errors by the replacement refs. The latest offense took place Monday night before a national television audience when the officials gave Seattle a game-winning touchdown reception that appeared to be intercepted by a Green Bay player. At first glance, the two players appear to have a piece of the ball in which case the offense always gets the call. But wait a minute! The replay showed the Seattle receiver pushed off before the ball arrived, which should have been offensive pass interference and Green Bay wins. Even such a venerable sports publication as The Wall Street Journal weighed in this morning with a headline: “"NFL Blindsided by Ref Furor." 

     Back to the Channel 6 interview, which I agreed to do. Recalling my old boss Jim Finks' advice to "always practice your ad libs," I thought about the points I should make while waiting for the reporter and cameraman to arrive. First, Goodell's legacy is a premature concept since he is a relatively young 53 and should have a few more years to add pages to his story. Second, I thought he and his team did a marvelous job at reaching a new Collective Bargaining Agreement last year. Granted, he has run through a rough patch in the past six months, since the Bountygate revelations and now the Replacement Ref imbroglio.

     But Bountygate was a situation where coaches and players knew they were violating league rules and likely lied about it when questioned by league investigators. Despite the anger of Saints fans, Goodell's punishment of the guilty parties was in his job description, no matter how much arbitrators and three-judge appeals panels try to parse it. His actions were framed under the mandate, valued by commissioners before him, to always protect "the integrity of the game." And that is where I found the conflict.

     The Replacement Ref situation is eroding that principle. There is no integrity in games being decided by officials whose lack of familiarity to the speed and nuances of the professional game cause them to blunder constantly. The Seattle ruling was the most watched, but when have we ever seen a game in which five rulings on the field were reversed, as they were in the Saints game? Other games have given us numerous other examples. Goodell has put himself in a position of inconsistency when he argues that the Bountygate penalties were levied to protect the integrity of the game but the impasse with the game officials are not? Any situation that artificially alters the competitive play on the field erodes the integrity of the game.

     In fairness, Goodell is operating in a different time than his predecessors. Health and safety issues will result in a class-action law suit, bringing together more than 2,000 individual suits by former players who claim the league did not do enough to counsel them about the dangers of concussions and other ailments. How Goodell handles that impending crisis, whose magnitude will draw parallels to the omnibus Big Tobacco lawsuits of past years, will have more to do with determining his legacy than the rough patch he is running through in 2012.

     But if the Replacement Refs are allowed to run around much longer in their clown cars and face paint, spraying seltzer bottles into Goodell's face, the more likely their act will throw a 15-yard penalty flag on his legacy. And that is what I told Channel 6.  


His new book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is now available in local bookstores and at his website:

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