The Tom Brady Deflategate debacle has tarnished Roger Goodell's image even more. Here are four ways he can repair it.
“Roger Goodell must go.” These words have been written in succession by approximately 5.3 million writers, including our own Doug Farrar, since judge Richard Berman nullified Tom Brady's four-game suspension and shamed Goodell throughout his 40-page decision last Thursday.
Removing the commissioner is a tough sentiment to argue against at this point. It's also a moot one. If NFL owners wanted a change they would have done so in the aftermath of last year's Ray Rice fiasco. On the flip side, if Goodell thought his throne of power and $44 million a year salary weren't worth the criticism, the human mudslinging magnet would have resigned by now.
Goodell will continue in his role for the foreseeable future. Unless something changes drastically, he will also continue as the most ridiculed figure in the sport he oversees. More than the domestic violence perpetrators found guilty in a court of law that get to subsequently play on America's Team. More than the national talking heads who advise rookies to have a “fall guy” for when they eventually fall into trouble.
Goodell has to be searching for a way to repair his image. And it's in the best interest of the league he do so immediately. While “Goodell” and “beloved commissioner” won't exactly be synonymous any time soon, there are a few action steps the current commissioner can take to rebuild his image.
1) Vacate Deflategate. Either admit defeat on Deflategate or don't admit defeat and purport to end it as a service to the league. Whichever path he chooses, Goodell needs to go beyond a written statement and hold a press conference. He must look into the camera and tell fans he now recognizes that concluding Deflategate is the right move to protect the integrity of the league.
2) Agree to a one-on-one, preferably with CNN's Rachel Nichols. As evidenced by transcripts from the Deflategate hearing and famously ducking a conflict of interest question from Nichols, Goodell could teach a master class on avoidance. What better way to turn the tide than to display contrition and possibly a bit of humanity in front of his top media adversary.
3) Alter the commissioner's role. According to a Washington Post report, the outcome of Deflategate may have laid the groundwork among owners to change Goodell's responsibilities as a disciplinarian.
“There will certainly be discussion about that,” an unnamed owner told the Post.
Whether there is validity to the notion of owners yanking Goodell from his CBA appointed post as judge and jury, this is a chance for the commissioner to be proactive. Goodell's layered power as disciplinarian is the most potent force dividing the union and the league. There is no conceivable way Article 46 remains intact once negotiations for the next CBA conclude in approximately 5 1/2 years.
Moreover, Goodell's staggering win-loss record in court has laid a red carpet for players to sue the league.
Goodell's desire to be the moral conscience of the league is well-documented but handing the disciplinarian role to an independent arbitrator before its yanked from him would be a shrewd move.
Imagine viewing Goodell solely through the lens of business and marketing. He's suddenly one of the successful visionaries on the planet.
4. Take a sabbatical. If all else fails, Goodell could go the route of Vladimir Putin. In 2008, Putin, then the President of Russia, stepped down based on terms limits in the Russian constitution and put his protege Dmitri Medvedev up for election. After four years working behind the scenes as Prime Minister, Putin reclaimed his role as President and his iron fist is more popular than ever.
Of course Goodell would never fully relinquish his power, but perhaps he could be persuaded to appoint a Medvedev-style loyalist to be a caretaker while he temporarily removes himself from the public eye. We'd all still know who's pulling the strings but it is more probable than not that new optics would push images of this dark era of inconsistent, policing to the back burner.