MIAMI -- Roger Goodell?
Good or evil?
Well, not him. I'm sure he's a very nice man, although I do secretly wish for him to get in trouble with the law just to see if he would have to suspend himself with excessive force, too. Nothing major. Maybe just a couple of glasses of red wine at dinner that puts him at .09, results in a misunderstanding with police and ends with him being Tasered in the street.
I'm joking, of course. He could be Tasered on the sidewalk instead.
Point is, I'd like to see someone with Goodell's bullying zeal rule too harshly on a Goodell mistake to universal applause, so that he would be forced to look more empathetically at whether there is more good or evil in the way he's punishing his workers -- which is with a breadth and hostility unseen before from a ruler in American professional sports.
It isn't easy to defend the rights of the criminals, especially when their punishments are met with lynch-mob applause, so Fidel Goodell can continue to trample employees without anyone pushing back. But I don't know if what he's doing is more good than evil. I just know that it is popular and easy and doesn't appear to be working.
It hasn't done much of anything to curb arrest numbers. More than 60 players have been arrested each of the past two years. That's about the annual average (more than 450 players have been arrested since 2000).
The Jaguars have had more than a dozen arrests in the past two years alone. Rest assured, the NFL offices would be publicizing it loudly if arrests were down.
In fact, Goodell's cure has had a funny side effect. Players aren't doing less wrong. They are just doing the wrong and then fleeing it in a panic, as Lance Briggs and Channing Crowder did upon crashing their expensive cars and Antonio Pierce did after Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg. (Wow. What a tremendous string of facts in just 37 words. Feel free to visualize those incidents while rereading the previous sentence.)
Americans don't like the dictator anywhere except in sports. They certainly wouldn't want one to be their own boss. But we seem to like someone applying much-needed discipline to these damn punk millionaires around our games, even if that someone is making up that discipline as he goes along, and even if he is excessive and random with it.
So Donte' Stallworth gets less than a month in jail for killing a man in a drunk-driving accident. The American justice system is OK with that. The victim's family is OK with that. But public opinion -- which has slightly less invested in this mess -- isn't quite OK with that. So Goodell tacks on -- let's see . . . hmmmm . . . what sounds good in a sport where the average career lasts three years? Six-game suspension? Ten games? Twelve games? (Let's gauge the noise of the mob before turning our thumb up emperor-style.) Let's make the punishment a full year above and beyond America's! (The gladiator arena roars its approval.) And then defensive end Jared Allen gets two DUIs in a year, and his sentence is arbitrarily reduced from four games to two.
It is hard to muster sympathy for Stallworth, I know. A father is dead, and his silence forever ends all arguments, no matter how many thousands of angels cry "causation" and "nuance." And it goes without saying that athletes should not break laws. But our civilization already has a system in place to address what happens if they do. It's called prison. It's pretty awful. A dogfighter suffers there enough, losing his fortune and reputation, without needing yet more random punishment from his employer upon being freed.
By now, you probably are saying that working in the NFL is a privilege, not a right.
You say you would be fired from your job if you did something felonious? Probably, depending on how much money you make the company. But here's the thing: Your job probably isn't a partnership, like the NFL. Your job's rules probably aren't collectively bargained, like the NFL's. The wide receiver isn't the same kind of employee that you and I are. Contractually, he is more partner in this business than mere employee, and that contract doesn't say anything about Goodell being able to arbitrarily create suspension lengths for him.
Our legal system is flawed, too, certainly. If you punish what did happen, not what could have happened, it is absurd that Burress is getting two years for shooting himself when that penalty would have been different in a different state and would have been lighter for someone without fame who couldn't be made an example by a loud mayor.
Stallworth would have been in more trouble if his same accident had happened in New York, and Burress would have been in less trouble if his same accident had happened in Miami.
Actually, Burress never happens here. He is never allowed into one of our clubs wearing sweat pants. And one gun wouldn't have made him a criminal in our clubs; it just would have made him not armed enough.
But at least our legal system has a judge and jury and lawyers as checks and balances, not just one ruler. Goodell can correct what seems like a light penalty on Stallworth to much public-opinion applause, but there isn't exactly anything in place to correct what seems like an excessive one on Burress. He's ruined. Goodell, as he showed with Michael Vick, can keep him out of the league even after he's freed at 34.
It is stupefying that the player's union, whose sole job it is to protect its constituency, has failed so spectacularly here. This issue is something union insiders predict might result in a work stoppage when the next contract is negotiated. The players have allowed Goodell too much power, and they have realized it too late to help Stallworth and his ilk. Other commissioners can't do this. This is what happens when a ruler gets power and mob applause without resistance.
Well, that and communism.
Lincoln was always talking about how, to truly be a leader, one had to risk being unpopular. What Goodell is doing certainly makes him look good. That doesn't mean it is good. But maybe that's why Goodell makes $11 million a year, and Lincoln was clinically depressed.