Roger Goodell’s absolute power over players is a myth


There’s a popular view among some in the media that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell enjoys complete and total power over the league’s players, especially on matters of discipline.  That popular view also is not accurate.

Apart from the reality that all discipline for on-field infractions falls under the jurisdiction of Ted Cottrell or Derrick Brooks, who were jointly appointed and are jointly paid by the NFL and NFLPA, the recently-revised PED and substance-abuse policies feature unprecedented use of third-party arbitration for most offenses.

Of course, the Commissioner retains full authority over the personal-conduct policy, a power that has had for years.  But while many (including us) routinely have characterized Roger Goodell’s authority as reflecting “judge, jury, and executioner” status, it’s important to remember one key point:  In three recent high-profile executions, the guy swinging the axe has missed the mark.

In 2012, Goodell yielded his authority over the discipline imposed on players in the Saints bounty scandal following an aggressive legal challenge.  Faced with compelling arguments that Goodell should be recused from handling the appeal of the punishments because he had prejudged the case, Goodell handed the baton to former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.  And Tagliabue overturned the punishments with a subtle rebuke that apparently has destroyed whatever relationship the former Batman-and-Robin-style partners once enjoyed.

In 2014, Goodell agreed preemptively to designate a neutral party to handle the appeal of Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension, given Goodell’s status as a witness in the case.  (A witness who fought hard not to testify in the case.)  Former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones overturned the punishment by finding that the main justification for it — that Rice had lied to the Commissioner in June 2014 regarding Rice’s assault on his then-fiancée — was not factually accurate.

Last week, current U.S. Judge David Doty found that Goodell and his hand-picked arbitrator, Harold Henderson, incorrectly determined that the unilaterally-revised personal-conduct policy could be applied retroactively to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  Pending appeal and/or further proceedings before Henderson, Goodell’s suspension of Peterson could end up being thrown out.

So while the emperor may have clothing, it’s covering far less muscle that most realize.  With the Saints players, with Rice, and with Peterson, Goodell believed he had the ability to impose whatever ruling he wanted to impose.  In each of those cases, Goodell and the rest of us learned that Goodell’s powers has real limits.

41 responses to “Roger Goodell’s absolute power over players is a myth

  1. Everytime I see a piece on Goodell on this site, I find myself hoping it is a report that he has been fired. How can the owners keep this fool employed?

    I ask the people of Chicago to give him an appropriate welcome at the draft, which will be his next public appearance. Boo him back to New York.

  2. I totally disagree with this article.
    Roger does what he wants, when he wants and rules/laws be damned. And all this WITHOUT repercussion from the owners.
    Anyone else in any other job or industry with the same actions and results of Goodell would be fired immediately. Yet he is not.
    I heard my teams owner, when asked whether he was happy with the commissioner, said he was completely happy with the job the commissioner is doing…
    i about fell out of my chair. freakin ridiculous.

  3. The fact that he can put anyone he chooses on the exempt list for any reason, with absolutely no recourse, means he has absolute power over the players. You forgot to mention that in the article.

  4. It’s not the fact that he fails at everything he tries to do. It’s the damage he causes to the game when he tries to do it.

  5. Why won’t the owners fire Goodell? Regardless of how bad he is at his job, he is making the owners $$$$$$$$$. That’s why you won’t see him gone any time soon. Personally, I think he’s an idiot..

  6. Last week, current U.S. Judge David Doty found that Goodell and his hand-picked arbitrator, Harold Henderson, incorrectly determined that the unilaterally-revised personal-conduct policy could be applied retroactively to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
    So what, Peterson still missed all last year.

  7. Cold comfort if you ask me. It’s difficult for common fans of football to reconcile a love for the game and any respect whatsoever for the commissioner, who’s charge it is to protect it’s integrity. To make a baseball analogy, the commissioner is the home team and the visiting pitcher struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth.

  8. Watching Goodell make a mess of things is so frustrating because he acts on neither principle nor on the strict interpretation of the rules. He seems to act based on which way the wind is blowing. This will inevitably get him into trouble with the fans and the players. I can appreciate a principled stand or one that adheres to the rules. I have no time for someone who checks for wind direction before making a decision.

  9. The article fails to point out that even though Goodell was eventually over-ruled in those 3 cases, he still succeeded in punishing all three over and above what was ultimately decided by an arbitrator. Per the CBA, Rice and Peterson deserved 2 gm suspensions, here we are one year later and neither has played because of Goodell’s actions. The Saints had a totally dysfunctional season with their coach gone for a year. In addition, if a potential suspension is handled by one of Goodell’s paid minions, it is still Goodell being judge, jury and executioner.

  10. “With the Saints players, with Rice, and with Peterson, Goodell believed he had the ability to impose whatever ruling he wanted to impose.”

    Number one, I agree wholeheartedly with this sentence.

    Number two, it disgusts me that Goodell has that kind of mindset so firmly and deeply entrenched.

    Third, unchecked power or not — that megalomaniacal clown creates real problems with his “I can do whatever the hell I want whenever the hell I want” mentality.

  11. It boggles my mind that most of you still haven’t realized that the owners run the league. They own the teams, they hire and fire the commissioner, they set the salary cap, etc. Remember the owners wanted Goodell because they wanted a law and order commissioner. They thought the previous commissioner was too soft on the players in terms of discipline. Now Goodell has gone too far on most of them but you don’t see few if any of the owners complaining do you? The owners like Goodell and that is all that really matters. None of us have the money or the power to change that. Do any of you remember what the baseball owners did. After Bart Giamantti suddenly passed away they hired Fay Vincent. Once they found out he was more of a player’s commissioner and more on the players side they fired him and gave the job to one of their owners Bud Selig.

  12. This article won’t change my mind about Goodell.

    He is a liar and he will always be one since he has proven to be one consistently.

    I wish we never had to see his name on this site (unless of course it was about him being fired.

    I hope the booing is ear chattering and goes for a LONG time at the NFL draft.

    It would be AWESOME to see the crowd continue to boo and not let him speak.

  13. All you need to know is he doesn’t care how dumb he looks. Just listen to him talk.

  14. So the fans crying roger has too much power can quiet down now? Give it a rest already.

  15. I tend to believe the naysayers, those who argue in support of Goodell, aren’t actually fans…but instead are media or league reps trying to spin public opinion of that idiot to be more palatable. But as Cheach & Chong say, “if it looks, smells & tastes like bull $__+, then it must be bull s__+”. I think they made that skit with Goodell in mind.

  16. The Commissioner is the owners’ figurehead. He says and does things that they don’t want to publicly. That’s why he gets paid so well, to be vilified. They all conference call and discuss all the dumb stuff going on then concur on what he is going to say. They’re not putting their faces, necks and names out there to say, “Hey fans, I just suspended Important Player X from our team because I heard through the grapevine that he did whatever”. Nope, they put ol’ Roger out there to take that heat.

  17. Goodell may make the owners money but he’s also costing them money in extended litigation and negative press and league endorsements. His days are numbered.

  18. Maybe the bigger problem is why do so many NFL players get in trouble. Its really not that hard to follow rules and the law. I think trying to keep that many people in line is a tall task for anyone.

  19. NO MORE lies
    NO MORE arbitrary rulings
    NO MORE reactionary rulings
    NO MORE careless concern about players and issues
    NO MORE leadership from someone despised by most players and fans
    NO MORE arrogance
    NO MORE insanity
    NO MORE incompetent leadership
    NO MORE dragging the NFL through the mud
    NO MORE using the NFL shield to mask your incompetence
    NO MORE boos that you will hear at the draft (think about that for a minute owners, real fans who love football but hate Godell)
    NO MORE Godell

  20. You think Goodell’s dumb? How about the loser fan base of the Vikings who despite the overturning of all suspensions for a bounty program that never actually existed, continue saying dumb things like, “Give us our trophy”. Sort of makes Goodell look good by comparison, and makes the rest of us laugh!


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