Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Reimer: NFL owners are using Roger Goodell as scapegoat for self-inflicted woes

Alex Reimer
October 29, 2017 - 6:18 pm

Roger Goodell has deserved to lose his job many times over his turbulent tenure as NFL commissioner. But ironically, as a large group of owners are reportedly plotting to halt his contract extension, now is not one of those times. 

Seventeen owners took part in a conference call last week to discuss stopping Goodell’s pending extension, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen. Earlier this season, it was reported Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is leading those efforts. In order for Goodell to be ousted, 24 owners must agree it’s time for a change. 

It’s been a tumultuous season for the league, which has been plagued with the prolonged controversy surrounding players kneeling for the national anthem and declining television ratings. Schefter and Mortensen report the anthem issue was a topic on the aforementioned conference call, along with the relocation of teams to Los Angeles and domestic violence. 

Goodell has whiffed on devising a coherent strategy to combat the league’s domestic violence problem, despite enacting a brand new policy in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal. While the mandate says first-time offenders are subject to a six-game ban, at least six players who have been arrested for domestic violence since the guidelines were put into place have missed less than six games. Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott was slapped with a six-game suspension earlier this year, but is appealing the ruling in court. 

Goodell’s bungling of domestic violence cases is nothing new, and frankly, couldn’t be accomplished without some assists from his billionaire overlords. Remember: It was the Ravens, not the NFL, who trotted Rice’s now-wife, Janay, behind a podium three years ago to apologize for the role she played in her beating. Giants owner John Mara kept disgraced kicker Josh Brown on his roster, even though he knew about a domestic violence incident involving him and his wife at the previous year’s Pro Bowl. 

Citing domestic violence as a reason to oust Goodell now seems like a convenient shield, as does the issue of relocation. After all, Jones reportedly pushed for the plan that permitted the Rams to move to Los Angeles and the Chargers to follow. Relocation wouldn’t have happened without the owners’ blessing. 

That leaves the kneeling controversy as the likely real reason some owners may want Goodell to exit. In a lengthy feature story, ESPN’s Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. detailed the contentious league meetings about the topic, which featured several owners –– led by Jones –– urging the commissioner to force all players to stand during the “Star-Spangled Banner.” They believe the kneeling issue has been a major contributor to the league’s declining ratings, even though there’s little evidence to support that theory. A recent HBO/Marist poll shows the majority of Americans think players have a right to protest while the anthem is being played. 

Changing viewership patterns is the likely reason why NFL ratings are trending downward. With the advent of cord-cutting, TV are declining across the board. But that’s a frightening concept for NFL owners to grasp, so instead of addressing the real problem, they appear to be using the anthem issue as a scapegoat. 

In the ESPN meetings story, Goodell is portrayed as a mediator between the owners and players. He reportedly urged the owners to sit beside the players during their 90-minute sit-down this month and refused to adopt a policy that mandates players to stand. That rankled Texans head honcho Bob McNair, who warned against the dangers of letting the “inmates run the prison.” He’s apologized incessantly since those comments were made public, claiming he was referring to the bruised relationship between the league office and ownership. 

But McNair’s players don’t appear to buy his explanation. Most members of the Texans knelt during the national anthem Sunday in an apparent public repudiation of their boss. 

McNair and Jones, who threatened to bench players who kneel, have done more than anyone besides President Donald Trump to resuscitate the yearlong kneeling controversy. Last week, just 22 players protested the anthem. But now, thanks to McNair’s tone-deaf analogy, it’s back on the proverbial front pages. 

It’s no secret Goodell’s top duty as commissioner is to cover for the owners’ avarice and arrogance. The possibility that he may serve as the fall guy for Jones’ and McNair’s recent missteps shows that to be more true than ever.

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