It’s fitting that Roger Goodell’s biggest failure, the one that could well end up permanently lessening the considerable power he and NFL owners have traditionally held over the NFLPA, was born out of the stupidest scandal in the history of the NFL, and perhaps all of sports. This is precisely the kind of defeat that someone as impotent and hollow-headed as Goodell deserves.
Let’s take a moment to reflect on the recent failures of Goodell’s tenure as commissioner:
- He suspended Ray Rice just two games after Rice knocked his fianceé out in an elevator, then suspended Rice indefinitely after video tape of the incident turned the original, paltry suspension into a PR nightmare for the league. A judge later overturned that second suspension because Rice was essentially being punished twice for the same crime, and because the NFL had no real evidence that Rice had lied during the league’s investigation into the incident.
- He hit the New Orleans Saints with sweeping and severe penalties after determining that the team had instituted a bounty program. Those suspensions were later overturned by ex-commissioner Paul Tagliabue on the grounds that Goodell had overstepped his bounds and reached his decision based on faulty evidence.
- He eagerly exploited the Adrian Peterson child abuse case as a way to restore his authority and brand as a stern, tough-minded disciplinarian. That suspension was later overturned by a federal judge because Goodell had retroactively and unfairly applied the league’s new domestic violence policy to Peterson’s case.
And now this. This particular defeat feels more meaningful than the previous ones, though, in part because of how truly benign the original “crime” was. Those other suspensions being vacated were big victories for the NFLPA, but Goodell’s flanks were still protected by the fact that he was facing off with a child abuser, a wife-beater, and a football team that purposely tried to hurt people. No matter how slapdash and wrongheaded Goodell’s ersatz judicial processes were revealed to be, he was always able to position himself as a good guy, just trying to get tough on bad people and do the right thing. He was able to point to his failures as evidence that all he needed to Get Things Right in the future was more power.
It’s much harder to imagine Goodell spinning this loss in his favor, though. There’s no monstrous crime with which to obscure his own failures this time. All Goodell has to protect himself with in this instance is that a few footballs that may or may not have been deflated by an amount that may or may not have made any real difference. This is to say that when Judge Richard Berman goes in on Goodell’s kangaroo court, essentially calling the whole operation flatly illegal, people are going to notice.
Now, any player who is suspended by Goodell under the same suspect jurisdiction of the “conduct detrimental” policy is going to be itching to take his case to court. It’s already starting:
The truly wonderful thing about all of this is it’s the direct outcome of a school of thought long trumpeted and wholeheartedly embraced by the useful idiots of the football press, who went on and on about how the best way to clean up the NFL was for Roger Goodell to get tough. It was like something out of the Reagan era, with tough-minded realists insisting that all due process does is let criminals get off on loopholes and technicalities, and that the NFL would be best off operating an independent judiciary in which Goodell would sit as both judge and jury, fully empowered to dispense vigilante justice to anyone who displeased him.
Goodell flexed on Tom Brady simply because Brady wouldn’t cooperate with this investigatory cosplay, and that’s the funniest thing about all of this. Goodell and his minions got all the power they wanted, and all it’s resulted in is a player who almost definitely did what he was accused of sticking his middle finger in Goodell’s face and getting off scot-free. In the real world, it turns out, due process isn’t an impediment to justice, but the basis of it.