Thursday, September 27, 2012

Goddell shames the NFL Shield

He will never admit it, but Roger Goodell put the good and welfare of Roger Goodell ahead of the good and welfare of the National Football League with his laughable handling of the lockout of league officials.

Making every possible wrong move during the more than four months the officials were told not to prepare for the 2012 season because the two sides didn’t have a Collective Bargaining Agreement, the commissioner brought shame and embarrassment upon the league.

The man who is being paid to protect The Shield and enhance its importance in the sports world has, instead, made it a joke that has spread across the social media landscape on a national basis.

To think it took one of the most egregious officiating errors in memory, recent or otherwise, in order to bring about labor piece with the league’s regular zebras makes the story that much more fascinating.

The more mistakes scab officials made for the first three weeks of the season, the more we heard from the NFL that they were doing a good job. It was business as usual as the NFL Referees Association and NFL conducted on-and-off talks for the last couple of months.

And then came the game-ending play in the Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks that ultimately resulted in getting the two sides to reach an agreement late Wednesday. But you’ll never hear the league never admit that.

Goodell said the two factions were in “intensive negotiations” the last couple of weeks, but admitted that call and the outcry that accompanied it “may have pushed the parties along.”

May have? Is he kidding? Does he expect anyone to take him seriously when he talks like that?

The irony here is that is the league, in defending the call, got it wrong just like the officials on the field and the dude in the replay booth. The league admitted a penalty should have been called on Seattle receiver Golden Tate, but failed to see what just about everyone else saw: an interception by Packers defensive back M. D. Jennings in the end zone.

In fact, the league doubled down on the final decision, absolving all the officials involved in the Hail Mary play, which clearly saw Jennings come down with the interception before Tate placed his hand on the ball for what was termed a simultaneous catch and a Seattle victory.

Until that moment, the NFL had no intention of ending the lockout. The league could call it a coincidence that the agreement was reached about 48 hours after the Twitterverse erupted angrily, except for, perhaps, Seahawks fans, over the MNF call.

It was the impetus that got the two sides to eventually reach an accord because all of a sudden, everyone leaped on the story. Inside and outside the sports world.

From late-night comedians like David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Jay Leno to political pundits like Sean Hannity, Ed Schultz, Anderson Cooper (trying to be fair and balanced here) to news hens on the cable networks who know practically nothing about football, the NFL became a target.

The story made the NFL look like a joke on many different levels. No thanks, of course, to the man who placed it on that national pedestal to be ridiculed.

No, that’s the play that ultimately will be known as the dealmaker in this dispute. That play will be the causal factor that brings back the Ed Hochulis and Scott Greens and Jeff Triplettes to the consciousnesses of the American viewing public beginning with tonight’s Browns-Baltimore game.

And to think it could have been resolved a lot earlier than this. A lot earlier.

It was a case of the league caving into the officials for what would be something between $100 million and $200 million over an eight-year period. This rigid stance from a league that hauls in many, many billions of dollars from its product.

And who was calling the shots all the way? That’s right. The haughty commissioner, who dug in and would not budge.

The two sides traded public barbs along the way since the lockout in June. Negotiations started numerous times only to recess without a resolution. No one except Goodell and his minions were permitted to talk about the situation. He silenced everyone connected to the game, threatening them with fines.

In a bold stance that flew in the face of the First Amendment, he wielded an authority that basically forced players, coaches and team personnel to just deal with the situation. Even Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who never met a microphone or television camera he didn’t like, clammed up for fear of enriching the league coffers.

That’s when you knew when it was serious. Goodell was going to win this battle one way or the other. And he might have if it hadn’t been for that one play.

But he never thought the players would begin to publicly register their feelings and objections. And then the coaches became embroiled with the scab officials. It was a serious miscalculation that gained momentum as the season unfolded.

The league pointed to improved TV ratings as if the scabs had little or no impact on its product. “Everything they did, every call they made,” Goodell said. “They kept the game going. They worked hard and trained hard. They were incredibly focused and dedicated.”

And they were incredibly bad. But they were incredibly bad for both sides.

Now that the regular guys are back, bad calls will be made. After all, they’re only human. But the number of those bad calls will be dramatically reduced because these guys know what they are doing. The scabs had no clue.

Most of them never officiated beyond Division II or Division III and were sadly overmatched by the speed and quickness of the pro game. It became quite obvious early on that a lot of players were getting away with stuff they never would try with the regular officials.

But in the end, it all comes down to the stubbornness of a commissioner who brought shame and ridicule to The Shield. That’s not going to be forgotten for a long time.

And that’s something NFL owners, Goodell’s bosses, should look long and hard at when it comes time to consider extending his contract.

The NFL needs a strong man to be the titular head. Goodell is not that man. Not after this mess.

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