NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has become, at times, the highest-paid pin cushion in sports, providing face and voice to unpopular decisions made by the billionaires behind the curtain. Sometimes, most notably in connection with the Ray Rice scandal in 2014, the criticism morphs into a full-blown siege.
Currently, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred currently can relate. His handling of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal shows shockingly little leadership, conviction, or perspective. Most recently, Manfred suggested that the outcome that clearly should have occurred — stripping the 2017 World Series championship from the Astros — would have been “futile” because he simply would have been taking back a “piece of metal” from the franchise whose advance knowledge of pitch type and placement UNDOUBTEDLY fueled regular season and postseason wins.
On Monday, third baseman Justin Turner verbally obliterated Manfred’s comments on behalf of the Dodgers, the ultimate victims of the Astros’ scam.
“I don’t know if the Commissioner has ever won anything in his life,” Turner said. “Maybe he hasn’t. But the reason every guy . . . is working out all offseason, and showing up to camp early and putting in all the time and effort is specifically for that trophy, which, by the way, is called the Commissioner’s Trophy. So for him to devalue it the way he did yesterday just tells me how out of touch he is with the players in this game. At this point the only thing devaluing that trophy is that it says ‘Commissioner’ on it.”
Turner is right, and Manfred is lucky. If baseball were as popular as it used to be (and there once was a time when it was more popular than football), Manfred would be in grave danger of losing his job. Indeed, if Goodell had handled a such a blatant instance of cheating that so clearly creates an unfair advantage that strikes at the very heart of the game this way, he’d be gone.
Manfred also is lucky because people don’t bet on baseball the way they bet on football. Separate and apart from the supposed purity of sport, people who bet on the Astros’ opponents throughout this scandal got screwed. If that had happened for NFL bettors, the outcry would have been deafening — and Congress already would have had hearings.
Speaking of Congress, where are they on this one? Although some people love to recite the “they have better things to do!” mantra whenever Congress is showing interest in something that could adversely affect those people’s interests, the truth remains that Congress regulates and governs matters of clear public interest. Professional sports fall squarely within that category and, again, if this were a football scandal, members of the House Judiciary Committee already would have grilled in five-minute increments Goodell and every player and coach with direct or indirect knowledge of the facts from which the scandal arose.
None of this means that Manfred will survive this. Frankly, he shouldn’t. The point is that, if something like this happened for the NFL’s Commissioner, the NFL already would have hired a new Commissioner.