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viewpoint

Fire NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

| Friday, February 12, 2016

In spite of Sunday’s NFL glitzy super championship golden anniversary extravaganza, the $10 billion entertainment enterprise suffers from systemic failures that would best be corrected by releasing commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell’s public happy face belies his unsteady — some may strenuously argue hypocritical — policies, which have split the sport. The league standards fail to maintain uniform player conduct and club operations under a single mission. One need look no further than the opposing benches during Lady Gaga’s inspirational rendition of our national anthem Sunday. One team’s players stood, reverently erect with hands held over hearts, the other was fidgeting and distracted.

Curing the NFL requires a dualistic approach. Owners should replace Goodell, realign the divisions to promote parity, add more wild card teams to the playoffs, better restrict performance-enhancing and recreational drug abuse and at least provide lifetime health insurance coverage for its retired battered gladiators. To enhance excitement, increase revenue and expand team participation, owners should revamp the season and playoff structure. As it is now, the New England Patriots might as well begin their season in week seven with a 5-1 record considering how pathetic their division rivals are. Drop the Miami Dolphins and add the Baltimore Ravens for a more competitive region. Furthermore, each conference should add two wild card teams, so all playoff teams play without byes. The division winners host the first round, then the teams with the best records host the remaining games.

NFL ethical standards should uniformly adhere to civil law by demanding the highest standard of conduct from its players, both on and off the field, that reflects positively on the sport at all times. The core code of conduct should train an eye on character and sportsmanship in order to positively influence young admirers who seek to emulate players. That means players who do not like to lose and consider a good loser simply as a loser should learn humility and act like adults at a Super Bowl press conference by thoroughly answering questions honestly in a heartfelt manner.

On the field, core conduct means players should refrain from pregame trash talk replete with slurs and expletives in an attempt to intimidate and incite opposing players. The NFL should establish a penalty box replay official at each game with the authority to eject players not caught during real-time action before events escalate into a ruckus like that between New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham and Carolina Panthers cornerbacks Josh Norman and Cortland Finnegan. Sanctions should further hold coaches and team management responsible to assure their players act sportsmanlike at all times both on and off the field.

Inconsistently piecemeal remedies when confronted with public civil offenses have plagued Goodell. The scale should include an unwavering minimum of discipline and rehabilitation standards for any public misconduct such as brawling in bars, battering a domestic partner, sexually harassing others or public perception of overpaid arrogantly spoiled players. The league should better assist personal behavioral problems through dependency or psychological programs for cases like Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Talk about duplicity: Mark March 3 on your calendars for round two of the “Deflategate” saga, when Goodell will return to court to appeal the ruling that overturned his four-game suspension against Tom Brady. The upcoming court fiasco again accentuates Goodell’s unsteady management throughout his tenure, which has hypocritically targeted some conduct with vigor while turning a blind eye on others. One might think Goodell’s legal training should have taught him not to act as judge, jury and executioner while commissioner. Ask Patriots owner Robert Kraft if he believes he and Goodell came to terms and now feels betrayed by Goodell’s actions during the “Deflategate” fiasco.

Zero tolerance should be the standard for unsportsmanlike criminal-style actions on the field. The rules should ultimately strive to eliminate intentional injury. Merely fining a high-salaried player $50,000 “chump change” for an infraction does little to deter or modify bad behavior.

Deliberate Vontaze Burfict-like personal injury assassination attempts that inflicted a concussion on Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown — arguably the best player in football — should also automatically carry suspensions against the aggressor (Burfict) for as long as the victim (Brown) cannot play, plus a suspension the next time the teams play each other. A suspension at season’s end should apply to the next playoff game. Repeated offenses should also carry an automatic suspension of the head coach and a hefty fine against the team ownership.

Goodell’s record of erratic reactive behavior rather than proactive administration began in 2006 when he took office as commissioner. Steelers fans point to the fines against linebacker James Harrison for penalties that did not inflict concussions — only three personal fouls in 2006, one in 2007 and two in both 2008 and 2009 — levied disproportionately in excessive amounts as an attempt by Goodell to alter Harrison’s hard-hitting nature. Steelers Nation believes the commissioner sought to prove his neutrality by overcompensating against Harrison since Goodell graduated from a suburban Pittsburgh college. Contrast that with Goodell’s behavioral indifference today, which has allowed Burfict to commit perpetual mayhem on the field. For that, the Goodell effect diminishes the game today.

Given that Goodell and Judge Judy command similar salaries hovering around $45 million yearly, that Goodell comparison even greatly deflates Judge Judy’s value. The NFL brand deserves better at the helm.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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