Nearly 11 years after taking office as the Commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell is officially playing with fire.
The self-appointed judge, jury, and executioner of the NFL’s disciplinary system has been upsetting fans and players alike with his inconsistent decisions, condescending comments, and overall lack of respect for their intelligence.
What’s always kept Goodell’s job safe is the backing he has received from the NFL’s owners. However, the 58-year-old executive has managed to alienate two of his greatest allies over the past two seasons, putting his position in further danger.
After turning good friend and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft into an enemy by pushing so vigorously to suspend Tom Brady for his role in Deflategate, Goodell’s decision to ban Ezekiel Elliott for six games following more than a year-long investigation has reportedly left Jerry Jones furious.
Whether you agree with the punishment administered for Elliott’s alleged act of domestic violence, Jones’ indignation is completely understandable. Over the offseason, the Dallas Cowboys owner has said Elliott wouldn’t be suspended and the investigation had nothing to do with domestic violence. His son Stephen, the team’s executive vice president, also criticized the league for how slow the investigation had been moving. In short, Jones was blindsided by the lengthy suspension and is likely now left offended he was not privy to that information ahead of time.
Both Jones and Kraft have built reputations as two of the most powerful owners in the NFL, controlling two of the league’s most popular and successful teams. In 2015, The Washington Post’s Kent Babb characterized Jones and Kraft as Goodell’s two closest allies and two of five owners who were in the commissioner’s “inner circle” at the time.
Jones had already begun pushing against Goodell in May when the Cowboys owner and his son began advocating for a change to the league’s marijuana policy. Jones had proven in the past he can force changes in the NFL, as he has been largely credited with the league’s return to Los Angeles, swaying enough owners to vote to move the Rams back to Hollywood in 2016.
If he and Kraft put their resources to work, it’s imaginable they could get 24 of 32 owners to vote to remove Goodell from his post.
Goodell has helped set up a very lucrative television deal, won two lockouts against the players union, and made NFL owners richer than they already are, but after 11 years, the infrastructure has been set to continue the commissioner’s model without him – if they so choose.
Also under Goodell, the league has been relatively slow to adapt in comparison to Adam Silver and the NBA, and still push old ideas such as television broadcasting’s continued prominence over internet streaming. There are a myriad of outdated ideas Goodell and the league have clung on to, and at this point, it may be easier to bring in a new head with new ideas instead of backtracking through the self-preserving statements the NFL has been hiding behind.
Fans have never been shy to criticize Goodell as he and the league refuse to sensibly address topics like player safety, marijuana use, and the awfulness of Thursday Night Football, while cracking down on how players are allowed to dance after touchdowns. Players, with the outlet of social media, have become more comfortable calling out the league’s hypocrisies and disclosing any disagreements with Goodell’s rulings.
There are plenty of reasons why Goodell should be removed from his job, according to fans and players alike, but until those reasons begin to matter for the owners, they won’t be brought into question.
Jones and Kraft may not even need to care about the validity of those reasons in order to push for Goodell’s removal. If they feel they’ve lost a level of control throughout the league, they may do what they deem necessary to get it back. If they cannot trust Goodell with matters concerning their most important players, the 11th year of the current commissioner’s reign may be his last.
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