I was talking with my friend the other day about the commissioners of the four major sports in America. I told him that all four commissioners aren’t liked by the fan bases they work for. But out of all of them, there was one in my opinion that has at least gained the respect by the fans: the NFL’s Roger Goodell.
In the NHL, Gary Bettman has not been a fan favorite. He has struggled to help maintain interest in the league and throughout the years, a few franchises’ futures have been in jeopardy under his watch.
In the NBA, David Stern is viewed as the bad guy despite his efforts to make basketball fun. But instead, he took away all the fun and this past offseason’s lockout might have been the last straw.
And in the MLB, Bud Selig has caused a cluster with his new playoff system, meaningful meaningless All-Star games, the whole mess with the A’s future and everything else. He might be the worst out of all the four.
But when looking at Goodell in the NFL, fans don’t like how the lockout nearly took away last season or Goodell’s approach to disciplining players for their on and off field actions. However, after dropping the punishments on the key people involved in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program, the view of him has to have changed.
People might not love him, but they definitely respect him.
When news broke the bounty program the Saints were operating, there was an immediate buzz about how Goodell would handle it. How far will Goodell go to send a message?
In years past, Goodell has tried to make the NFL as professional as it can. He has endorsed every possible outlet to provide the NFL with the best safety rules. He wants the league to be enjoyed by the fans but at the same time, wanted the league to maintain a certain level of professionalism.
It was hard to judge Goodell in his first few years as commissioner. He was taking over this mega-corporation and had to maintain the league’s popularity. What he has done since has helped the league grow into one of the most watched programs on television and has provided the fans with great plays on the field.
But still, when it came to disciplinary actions, Goodell was questioned. Sometimes his punishments seemed OK (Spygate) while some feel that he was way too forgiving (bring back Michael Vick). But it never got to the point where there was fear that Goodell would make an earth-shattering stand.
Today he made that stand.
With the suspensions, docked draft picks and fines that Goodell issued to the key people in the bounty program, Goodell delivered penalties that exceeded nearly everybody’s expectations.
Goodell had advocated for player safety since his arrival and having that put in jeopardy by the Saints, the commissioner had no other choice but make an example of the Saints. It was like he gave the Saints the death penalty.
New Orleans might be able to recover from this and they have the talent on the roster to do so. But other teams may not be as lucky. Goodell knows that and wants that message to be clear.
People outside of the Saints organization are proud of the ruling. Not only from a competitive standpoint, but as an employee of Goodell’s. That’s the kind of boss you can trust.
Goodell is a genuinely good person. I met him during the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2010 and I could see the joy he had in meeting all the fans. He loves football and wants people to enjoy it with him. But whenever there was any threat to the well-being of the game, he had to make sure that his baby, the league, would not get hurt.
That’s what the Saints did and that’s why Goodell made his decision. He cared too much about the league to let its image get tarnished. He doesn’t play favorites. Everyone is held accountable in his eyes.
You may not love Goodell and that’s totally fair. But after seeing how he handled “Bountygate”, it’s hard not to have respect for a man who cares so much about the game he loves. There’s a little fear, but a lot more respect.
The Saints will learn their lesson and the league will be better off for it.