Commish botches the call on coaches
Forget for the moment the question of whether Roger Goodell is fair in his self-appointed role as the NFL’s chief disciplinarian. It’s time to start questioning whether he knows what he’s doing when it comes to protecting himself.
The scuffle between Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz and San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was the perfect opportunity for the commissioner to demonstrate that his past stances on player mishaps had been about protecting the league from embarrassment.
Rather than being an ego-crazed bully.
Or an out-of-touch, power hungry control freak.
Or, as some have wondered — most notably and publicly Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison — a racist with two sets of rules.
Yes, for an NFL leader doggedly determined to institute discipline on a vastly wider scale despite such blowback, he just had been handed a gift.
This was Fairness 101 served up on a platter for a league and a leader with an image problem with its own players. When Harbaugh roughly shook Schwartz’s hand and slammed him briskly on the back after the game, and Schwartz then chased him down the field to kick off a near scuffle, Goodell was poised to prove his naysayers wrong.
Here, the iron-fisted commissioner could have demonstrated that his hard brand of justice extends to anyone who hurts the NFL’s brand. Since these were two white coaches, he certainly could have undercut the rising concern among black players that they face a double standard. He could have done the right thing — and it would have been right — while giving himself some much needed cover.
He sent out NFL spokesman Greg Aiello on Tuesday to let the world know on Twitter there aren’t consequences for coaches when they cross that line. That’s reserved solely for the players.
“Both coaches told Ray Anderson today that their postgame conduct was wrong and will not happen again," Aiello posted, referring to the NFL vice president of football operations. "We believe their response is the correct one and that their postgame conduct going forward will be more appropriate."
This is hypocrisy, plain and simple. You would think Goodell and the very smart men he surrounds himself with would have the foresight to, if not be fair, at least act in the best interests of themselves and their league.
Hell, there’s a movement afoot in the city in which the NFL is based that’s slogan should have offered Goodell all the insight he needed. Love it or hate it, agree with it or not, Occupy Wall Street has branded itself The 99 Percent.
As in: The masses (players) often feel manipulated and used by the few in power (the owners, led by one Roger Goodell).
The solution was simple: Levy the fine, utter harsh words, make it clear — and stress this part — that everyone is expected to play by the rules in Roger Goodell’s NFL. No exceptions.
That’s what a businessman with a clear vision and a cool head would have done. But a bully — someone drunk on power and unable to grasp things as they stand because their ego clouds their judgment — a bully veers toward the obtuse.
This one shouldn’t be very hard to get right.
Goodell got it wrong.
What Schwartz and Harbaugh did is the coaching equivalent of an all-out postgame brawl between players. Coaches — mostly 40- and 50-year-old men — should be held to a far higher standard of public conduct than the mostly 20-somethings they lead. So although no punches were thrown by Harbaugh and Schwartz, the verbal jabs they threw, the embarrassing confrontation they sparked, and the contradictory undisciplined tone they set warranted a strong rebuke from the league’s highest office.
Goodell demands his players avoid helmet-to-helmet collisions in the heat of battle but he can’t clamp down on postgame ego-to-ego collisions from his coaches?
Players are in a frenzied state of competition all game — full of testosterone, physically going at one another, their blood boiling and their tempers often on that line between passion and anger. Coaches man the sideline, charged with keeping those emotions in check so they can move every piece on the board toward victory.
So for a coach to go after another coach, that’s something big. That’s something embarrassing. That’s something that rises to the level of requiring discipline, particularly in an era in which the NFL and its commissioner have in large part defined themselves as disciplinarians.
It’s interesting to note that the league was more concerned about what players did during the lockout, when there was no collective-bargaining agreement and no product to protect, than they are now when two of its best storylines disintegrated into something so stupid.
The 49ers are 5-1. The Lions are 5-1. And these guys are going at each other on the field? And the league office thinks all’s well?
Forget fair. What I’m wondering is what, exactly, is Roger Goodell thinking these days?
How can you expect a man incapable of protecting himself to know how to protect an entire league?
You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter or email him at email@example.com.