NFL

Goodell is scapegoat for ref debacle

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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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It was no surprise to see NFL players kicking away at Roger Goodell before Wednesday night's agreement with the locked-out referees — an attack by Twitter, mostly. If you’ve seen enough prison movies, then you know how it goes: The warden portrays himself as righteous, but really is just making sure the prisoners are broken into submission to help him get what he wants. You can’t wait for the comeuppance.

athletes who share too much

THAT HAPPENED

The NFL's replacement official debacle hit a new low Monday night in the Seahawks' 14-12 win over the Packers. See the controversial call.

Goodell is no Warden Norton from “Shawshank Redemption,” but the NFL players see him that way. They hate him, and finally had their chance to act on it. So they tweeted away about the NFL, against Goodell’s orders, daring him to do something about it. He won’t.

It’s something the players never would have risked before the replacement refs blew the Seattle-Green Bay game. This isn’t just about the refs, though, but also about how Goodell handled Bountygate, player conduct, safety issues and the lockout. Goodell has made some mistakes that deservedly should get him in trouble, but it’s too bad that what’s going to undermine him is something he’s not fully responsible for.

The owners were the ones directing Goodell to act tough against the officials in the labor fight. And what’s surprising is this: While the players were chirping away, what have we heard from the owners?

Crickets.

They didn’t seem to be standing up for Goodell, taking some of the blame for the collapse of their league’s credibility based on their demands.

They didn't help Goodell through the mess, either.

If anything, they seemed to be offering him up as a sacrifice to the players. If everything keeps going this badly, Goodell is going to take the fall. The owners have him positioned perfectly for it.

Jerry Jones? Even you did’t have anything to say?

“I didn’t see that ending last night,’’ the Cowboys owner said on KRLD-FM radio in Dallas. “I cut it off about halftime.’’

San Francisco CEO Jed York tweeted this: “Good night hanging with family & friends in Youngstown. Did I miss anything on #MNF’’

It’s as if they don’t really even know what Goodell is up to.

You know, last year, New England owner Robert Kraft got all the praise of the NFL media for heroically bringing together both sides during the player lockout, despite his wife dying of cancer.

Even as negotiations continued Tuesday and Wednesday between officials and the league, not one owner apparently was willing to break ranks and say, “We need to end this referee deal. The integrity of the game is at stake. Safety is at stake.’’

You’d think at least one of these guys would have the courage to step forward.

The owners stayed tough on the officials throughout the labor rift, but used Goodell as the front man. The players could express their anger.

And Goodell?

The players sensed his weakness for the first time.

Those replacement officials lost their credibility. Players didn't believe in them on the field. It led to players taking more cheap shots, figuring they can get away with them. More injuries surely would have followed if not for the agreement.

Meanwhile, gamblers were losing faith in the credibility of the game, and that’s something the NFL can never have. Too much of the league’s popularity is tied up in gambling. And fans see a game that’s losing its legitimacy.

When all forms of authority have lost their respect, all you have left is chaos. Goodell still is struggling to hold on to his own respect.

Does he deserve all the animosity? Are players right to dislike him so much?

Well, he did overstep during Bountygate, penalizing players without any transparency. He didn’t feel the need to offer up evidence, and wanted people to simply take his word for what was happening. He also wanted to be the appeals process on his own decisions.

WHAT'S GOING ON?

Touchdown? Touchback? See how it all unraveled Monday night.

And last year, the NFL beat the players in the labor fight.

Goodell stepped in and changed rules midseason on player safety, but I applauded him for that. With so many retired players’ brains turning to mush, and some ex-players even killing themselves in depression, it was a good move. It also was about liability to the league, by the way.

Maybe that directive came from owners, too?

Goodell's job is to represent the owners, who pay him. But the players just have too much built-up resentment toward him to see what’s really happening.

The league office put out a statement that basically backed the replacement refs, and the touchdown call on the Hail Mary. It cost Green Bay a win. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers called the statement, “garbage, obviously.’’ On Milwaukee’s ESPN 540-AM, Rodgers said he wanted to do something that the league would never do: apologize to fans for the product they are seeing.

“I just feel bad for the fans,’’ he said. “They pay good money, and the game is being tarnished by an NFL who obviously cares more about saving a little money than having the integrity of the game diminish a little bit.’’

When he said “NFL’’ did you hear “team owners’’ or “Goodell?’’

The players stand together. The fans, too. They were getting the comeuppance they want. Who would have thought the owners would have been the ones to give it to them?

Tagged: Packers

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