Opinion:NFL commissioner has too much power

Tyler Kieslich

Tyler Kieslich

Tyler Kieslich is a sophomore news major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

When Chad Johnson, former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver, wrote an open letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last spring, he addressed his boss as “dad.” Not “bro” or “buddy” or “pal.” “Dad.”

The sports media dismissed the weird employee-boss dynamic as playful rapport. Besides, the letter seemed on the surface to be a show of support for Goodell, who at the time was facing all sorts of criticism for the league’s player safety policies as well as its treatment of former players. But I can’t believe for a second that someone with as well-documented an ego as Johnson would get along with a fuddy-duddy like Goodell. To me, calling him “dad” was perfect satire.

No other major sports commissioner exemplifies a father-knows-best brand of conservatism quite like Roger Goodell. Since he took the position in 2006, the league has aggressively combated touchdown celebrations, in-game trash talk and swagger of any kind. Off-the-field indiscretions now face the unquestioned wrath of The Roger, who has total power to punish his players. There is no third-party arbitrator. Goodell himself handles appeals.

The league punished the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins for spending too much money during the uncapped 2010 season without any real explanation. It is no surprise, then, that Goodell is often called “the most powerful man in sports.”

So when the “bountygate” scandal broke, the heavy-handed response from the commissioner’s office came as no real surprise. In a sport that pays a high premium for violence, the New Orleans Saints were accused of paying a higher premium for its violence. The NFL claimed that the Saints were paying players out of a “bounty fund” to intentionally injure opponents.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely, head coach Sean Payton was banned for a year and four Saints players received suspensions of varying lengths. Appeals were filed, but Goodell did not change his mind. He did not release any evidence he had either, so the Saints players took their case to an appeals court, which decided last Friday to vacate the suspensions.

This is a major blow to the commissioner’s autonomy as unofficial czar of American football. The appeals panel agreed that it is Goodell’s job to uphold the “integrity of the game,” which has been Goodell’s justification for everything he’s done for six years. Football is a brutal, punishing game that often leaves its players debilitated and handicapped, but heaven help us if somebody does the Dougie after they score a touchdown.

The Saints scandal has made it clear that Goodell has too much power. When the accused began to question the accusers, there was no contingency plan. Someone needs to hold Goodell accountable to his decisions, and appeals should not be heard by the same person who heard the case originally. I think we’d all feel better about objectifying the players who sacrifice their minds and bodies for our enjoyment if we at least have the peace of mind of knowing that they have the same rights as any other employee.