On Goodell: It’s Called Consistency, Folks

By now, you all know that Tom Brady’s Ballghazi suspension has been reinstated. Before people get tuned up with their opinions, let’s talk about something else.

You remember how the Denver Broncos were penalized for salary cap violations dating back to their Super Bowls win during the John Elway-Terrell Davis-Mike Shanahan era, right? Let me ask you to consider a few things.

Consider what would have happened if ESPN had decided to make a major uproar over the violations and how they impacted the integrity of the game. Consider what would have happened if social media was all around and people were flooding their feeds and timelines with memes about how the Broncos were cheaters. Consider what would have happened if the Internet was as widely used as it is now and everyone gave their hot takes about the implications of the Broncos’ machinations.

Finally, consider what would have happened if Roger Goodell, not Paul Tagliabue, was the NFL commissioner at the time the violations were first reported.

Do you really think for one minute that Goodell would have just left the Broncos with a nearly $1 million fine and the loss of a third-round pick if there had been such a major uproar?

This is what you need to consider with regards to the disciplinary measures that Goodell has handed out to players and teams in recent years. Rather than establishing a consistent policy or following whatever rules the NFL already has in place (with only a few exceptions), he makes it up as he goes, based solely on how much people are talking about something, how prominent the individuals in question are, and how much squawking certain players and/or owners are doing regarding certain issues.

Let’s go back to the Broncos’ example. When Tagliabue announced the punishment, some considered it to be harsh. No team had ever been fined nearly $1 million dollars for a self-reported violation, one that nobody claimed wasn’t a violation, but was one that, in the grand scheme of things, didn’t really give the Broncos a competitive advantage.

But if Goodell had been the commissioner and the Broncos’ cap violations were trending all over, I could see him react this way: Broncos lose first- and third-round picks, Mike Shanahan is suspended for a year (after all, he had final say on personnel), Ted Sundquist is suspended for eight games and the Broncos get fined nearly $2 million while Goodell rambles about protecting the integrity of the game.

And all of you would no doubt shout in unison: THAT’S NOT FAIR!

This is the real issue at the heart of Ballghazi, the Chiefs getting docked picks for tampering violations, the Dallas and Washington franchises getting penalized for daring to use the uncapped year to their advantage, and on it goes. Oh yeah, Ray Rice got a two-game suspension until new video footage is released, so go back and suspended him indefinitely. Then announce a six-game suspension for any player who is a first-time offender for a domestic violence conviction, only to give Greg Hardy 10 games because he isn’t being a good little soldier, but reduce it to four games on appeal and have everyone wonder if Goodell just throws darts at a board to determine initial punishments and rulings on appeals.

I’ll link you to a good column by Mike Freeman about how the attitudes of many NFL general managers have changed in the time since the whole Ballghazi saga first became a big deal. To sum up: At first, they weren’t sympathetic to the Patriots because they didn’t like the Patriots. Since that time, as more evidence as surfaced, they now believe Goodell is out of line. And one instance that might be causing them to change perspective: The punishment the Chiefs got for “tampering” with Jeremy Maclin.

Simply put, Roger Goodell cannot continue to keep making things up as he goes along, seemingly based on how much people are talking about what happened. A good judge doesn’t pay attention to media coverage when deciding punishment. If the mayor is arrested for a first offense for DUI and an average Joe known only to his buddies is arrested for his fourth offense, the judge is not going to give the mayor the harsher sentence just because that’s the mayor. Never mind that there will be more people up in arms about the mayor and his DUI; a good judge knows that you must consider the facts in the mayor’s case just like anyone else’s and pay no attention to the people who want the mayor’s head on a silver platter.

We must remember that most people who react to wrongdoings tend to react to them based on their own personal likes, dislikes and other perceptions. The perfect example: We Bronco fans laugh more often at what happens to our current enemies (Patriots, Raiders, Chiefs) than we do to teams we only get worked up about when they face the Broncos (Browns, Jaguars, Rams). That doesn’t mean we should cheer on Goodell to drop the hammer hard on our enemies and go easy on the teams we don’t care about as much. And Goodell needs to recognize this himself.

If he can’t recognize that himself, then players and owners alike need to realize that they need to stand together on ensuring that Goodell puts together consistent policies that aren’t already in place and, if one is in the rulebook, to stick by that one unless he asks players and owners to revisit it. And in every case, the rules need to spell out exactly what the punishment will be for a first offense, a second offense, etc.

If Goodell wants a punishment to be “up to” a certain number, that’s fine, but he needs to be told he can’t exceed that number. So if he believes a fine for a team who is found guilty of “tampering” needs to be up to $100,000 for the first offense, he has to remember he can’t exceed that amount. If he wants to take a draft pick away, that needs to be in the rules or he can’t do it. Or if he wants a player who is a first-time offender for a domestic violence arrest to get up to a six-game suspension, then six games is the maximum. No changing the rules based on how remorseful or pouty the player acts.

No changing the rules based on how much people are talking on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, ESPN or any other outlet. No changing the rules based on whether the violation happened during a Jaguars-Browns game or in the AFC title game. Just forget all the “yeah but” stuff that people want to add, simply because they want THE ENEMY to get his comeuppance.

Staying consistent would go a long way toward getting Goodell to regain some respect. But if it is to happen, players and owners alike may need to realize they share a common interest in the matter.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.