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Fri, April 19

Hang Time: Goodell's leadership in the hands of the owners now

Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press<br>NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walks on the field before last Thursday’s game between the Seahawks and Packers in Seattle.

Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press<br>NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell walks on the field before last Thursday’s game between the Seahawks and Packers in Seattle.

ESPN's Tom Jackson on Monday evening asked the two most apt questions in terms of the league's handling of the abhorrent Ray Rice situation: What did the league know, and when did it know it?

We the fans (and pundits; I'm particularly pundity today) can hoop and holler 'til the next kickoff all we want. I'm no fan of the ATM's... the NFL's big cheese, and have used space here and here to make my case(s).

Forget about my hot air anyway. Challenging Commissioner Roger Goodell's lack of leadership is now in the hands of the owners.

And he's plenty covered there. He has positioned himself beautifully with the only jury that could possibly have any sway. He has fattened his owners much the same way as himself: With gobs and gobs of cash, and much, much more on the way.

How fitting is it that on the day the league's eyes finally opened to the monstrosity that is Ray Rice that the AP's national NFL writer published a story headlined "NFL turns over every leaf in ongoing revenue hunt."

In it we get reminders that Goodell has gone on record as saying he wants to grow the $9 billion league into a $25 billion business by 2027. Some of the steps to get there include visions of future stadiums (at no doubt, taxpayer subsidized; there's no way Goodell would ask private business owners to pay their own way lest it cut into revenue projections) that include seatback monitors that allow fans to listen to coaches the way fans can listen in to NASCAR crew chiefs during races; international franchise expansion; and bringing a team back to Los Angeles.

After all, writes the AP's Eddie Pells, "The league has essentially used Los Angeles as leverage for every NFL city that balks at building an upgraded stadium for its current team."

Goodell hasn't threatened a broke city's fan base with the red carpet of L.A. in awhile, and he must be getting utzy.

So, Goodell's plate has been full to say the least. He's been busy micromanaging every opportunity to monetize every aspect of the league (even seatbacks!!) to the point where his office can't possibly be bothered with an elevator surveillance video. Seriously, Rice's presence, or even lack thereof, on a field won't make a blip on the league's seismic bottom line. It's a fly on Goodell's windshield. Case closed.

"Nothing the NFL does follows rational profit-and-loss economics," agent Leigh Steinberg says in the Associated Press story on expanding league revenue.

Rational is the key word here.

It's naïve to think that the NFL isn't about making gobs of money. Every commissioner before him has had the same keys to the same vault Goodell mathematizes on an hourly basis.

But what price does profit require? With blinders set squarely on full tunnel vision, Goodell clutches the keys to his kingdom while not knowing as much as he thinks he knows about the game and its place in America. A game that - at the risk of sounding unabashedly corny - stands for something else. Something emotional. Something handed down. Something where right is right.

His earlier predecessor, Pete Rozelle, got it.

"I'm not claiming that football is the nation's salvation in this area, but it's one of them, one little thing that apparently has captured the imagination of a large sector of our society," Rozelle once said. "But when football can't be a relatively pure outlet, a fun thing, then it hurts itself."

Goodell doesn't get it, and never has. That the league is bigger than him. That it stands for something he has never stood for. Something - heaven forbid for five damned seconds - beyond revenue upon revenue upon revenue.

I sound nauseatingly naïve, I know.

But at least I understand the lesson that Goodell only just learned today.


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