Make No Mistake: Roger Goodell Won This Thing

Anyone who thinks that a New York District judge's reversal of Tom Brady's suspension was a momentous victory for Brady and the New England Patriots, and, simultaneously, a crushing and humiliating blow to the NFL Commissioner, hasn't been paying attention.

From the moment--from the very instant--Roger Goodell suspended Tom Brady for his alleged mischief, Goodell had already won. It didn't make a whit of difference if the suspension were ultimately upheld, modified or vacated because Goodell wasn't interested in final outcomes. He was interested only in how he was perceived by NFL owners, his employers. And in that regard, everything came up roses.

Just consider the preliminaries to this thing. After being perceived by the owners and media as being weak and indecisive in response, first, to the brain concussion epidemic that caught the League unprepared, and second, by the spousal abuse scandals (notably Ray Rice cold-cocking his girlfriend in an elevator) that gained national attention and embarrassed the League, Goodell needed to prove that he was indeed decisive and resolute.

And what better way to prove that than to go head-hunting--to go after the League's Prince Charming quarterback, Tom Brady, and one of the League's most successful and influential figures, Robert Kraft, owner of the storied New England Patriots. "Hey, wait a minute," people said. "I thought Goodell and Kraft were friends. I thought they were buddies." Which was precisely what Goodell wanted them to think--that he was principled enough, that he was tough enough, that he had enough old-fashioned intestinal fortitude to do the right thing even when it meant going against a powerful and high-profile owner who, alas, happened to be his personal friend.

What people don't realize is that Roger Goodell couldn't care less what the fans, players or media think of him. All he cares about is what the owners think, because it's the owners, his employers, who have paid him almost $80 million over the last two seasons to be their commissioner. These are people you don't want to disappoint or piss off.

To be completely accurate, he doesn't even care what ALL the owners think, only what the majority of them think, because he only needs a majority to keep his job. And with all the petty jealousies and backbiting that go on behind the scenes, his coming down hard on the Patriots, on Robert Kraft, and on Kraft's Golden Boy quarterback, had to have scored some serious points with envious, second-echelon owners.

So all these sensational stories about Judge Berman overruling Goodell being a terrible thing for Goodell personally, and a terrible thing for the League, totally miss the point. The commissioner doesn't worry about pleasing Joe Six-Pack, or the talking heads at ESPN, or players' union. He keeps his $40 million salary by pleasing a majority of the owners. Which is why Goodell came out the big winner.

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