The sports chattering class has now called for the dismissal of Commissioner Roger Goodell. That may happen if facts keep appearing out of the blogosphere that point to duplicity on the part of the leader of the National Football League. He has apologized for "getting it wrong" when he at first administered only a lenient two-game suspension to Ravens' running back Ray Rice. That mea culpa proved inadequate when the elevator videotape revealed Rice's quick left hook landed on the face of his fianceé. Goodell has repeatedly insisted that he and his people had not previously seen the smoking tape, although there is evidence to the contrary.
Sports fans think that they -- and not the club owners and their commissioner -- have a right to control the sports they love to follow. They think that they can dismiss Roger Goodell. Nothing can be further from the truth. Sports businesses do depend upon our patronage and devotion, but no one has suggested with regard to the Rice affair that we should boycott the NFL and seek alternate programming on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. Anyone who is sufficiently disturbed by the alleged "lies" of Mr. Goodell can do that if he wishes, but it is unlikely that option will be pursued.
Instead, commentators have called for the commissioner's head on a platter based on his lies. That, in fact, may happen if the latest independent investigator commissioned by the NFL, the much-respected former head of the FBI, Robert Mueller III, finds that Goodell was not playing it straight. That seems an unlikely outcome, but much that has happened regarding this entire matter has been quite unlikely.
It would be more useful to try to identify more compelling reasons why Goodell should be removed from his post. If he had failed to serve the business needs of the 32 NFL owners, he could be "released." (Remember, no one in football is ever fired when they are cut from the 53-man roster; they are "released," as if they had been tied to their club and were finally freed to explore other life pursuits.) Roger Goodell, however, has made the owners even richer than they were under predecessor commissioners, and the League's coffers are overflowing.
Although the Rice flap has not been good for NFL's business goodwill, the League and this Commissioner have weathered similar storms in the past. The League has settled litigation brought by retired players claiming they were not informed that as a result of working for the League they gradually would lose their minds as they aged, resulting in memory loss, depression and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and they would likely die an early death. The League has faced severe criticism for allowing a quarterback to return to the game after serving almost two years in prison for his involvement in an interstate dog fighting ring. The League eventually had to free players from suspension based on allegations that they were paid a bounty to injure opposing players. The League suffered when locker room hazing was disclosed. The League continues to countenance a team nickname that is a disparaging racial slur. Is the League's response to Ray Rice's misconduct any more serious than these incidents?
The problem with Commissioner Goodell's comments about Rice's attack on his fianceé is that he (and, as a result, the NFL) never demonstrated one drop of passion or outrage in responding to the societal scourge of violence inflicted on women. While domestic violence is not the exclusive province of NFL football players, they certainly have demonstrated a propensity to engage in such egregious behavior. Goodell has a unique platform from which to speak about the serious ills of our society. That may not be why he was selected for his post, but his failure to use the Ray Rice incident to denounce violence against women should cause him to lose his post. The reason Ray Rice is banned from the NFL is because what he did in that Atlantic City elevator to his fianceé was intolerable and despicable. Commissioner Goodell should have said that and added that the National Football League would take the lead in eliminating such behavior from our culture and society.
Some may question whether this has anything to do with the game of football. If perpetrators of these crimes are associated with the game of football, then the NFL is front and center. Goodell's original two-game suspension of Rice suggested to many that the NFL did not fully appreciate how censurable the running back's conduct was. That deeply hurt a lot of people. Even the subsequent indefinite suspension of Rice was not accompanied by a heartfelt attack on his behavior.
Now the Ray Rice affair has become a problem to be managed by the NFL, as opposed to an incident from which we, the sport-viewing public, can learn. If every male football fan vowed never to raise a hand against a woman, this country would be changed for the better. So far, the commissioner has not even suggested that this should be the outcome of this controversy. He is to blame for that omission, and it should cost him his job.