Commentary

Roger Goodell's authority takes a hit

Predecessor's ruling on Saints bounty case opens door to more player challenges

Updated: December 13, 2012, 8:47 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell -- with bodyguard in tow during the owners' meetings here -- had his cloak of invincibility yanked off this week.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell
AP Photo/LM OteroAs NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell has always made safety a priority. His challenge has been making sure his discipline is fair.
Ironically, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue did it.

Tagliabue, appointed by Goodell, overturned the suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players. He ruled Scott Fujita was innocent of all conduct detrimental to the league.

No longer is Goodell alpha and omega when it comes to doling out punishment. These days, the sun no longer rises and sets on his judgments.

Just look at how many players will start vigorously challenging each and every punishment he doles out, because they sense his vulnerability.

If players can get Goodell to appoint a hearing office to handle an appeal -- even if they must use public pressure to do so -- then they have a good chance to get his decision overruled.

"Absolutely not," said Goodell about his power being usurped. "I think that's also made clear. This is not precedential. I told clubs that today. I'm going to continue to do what's right particularly when it comes to player health and safety."

Whether Goodell chooses to acknowledge or admit he has lost some authority is irrelevant. All we have to do is look at what happened in the much-publicized Saints bounty case.

Goodell appointed Tagliabue to hear a second round of appeals of the penalties he gave the players based on the bounty program run by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009 to 2011.

Initially, the suspensions had run from 16 games for Jonathan Vilma to three for Fujita. In October, a three-member appeals panel vacated the suspensions.

Goodell countered by reducing the suspensions for everyone except Vilma. So this is the second time Goodell's punishment has been declared heavy-handed.

Wow.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell and Paul Tagliabue
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesBy overturning the suspensions of four Saints players, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, right, diminished successor Roger Goodell's authority.
Tagliabue agreed with the gist of Goodell's findings that the Saints had a bounty system in place for three seasons.

But Tagliabue placed much of the blame on New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis, coach Sean Payton and Williams; Goodell believed the players were equally culpable.

Oh well.

Now Goodell looks bad.

There's zero wrong with Goodell's cleaning up the NFL and protecting the shield. He's made it clear during the six years he's been in charge that he runs the NFL with a stern hand.

Shame the NFL shield and you're going to get punished. Severely.

The problem is making sure the punishments are fair. That's all anyone ever wants. There's no need to make examples of players whose careers have a finite life.

Goodell's top priority is making the game safer, which is why he tried to come down so hard on the Saints.

His heart was in the right place, but that's not good enough. He's lost credibility among the players because they see a man too often abusing his considerable power.

It will take years for him to regain it. It's the players' fault, of course.

They gave Goodell the power in the collective bargaining agreement. Goodell, like most leaders, probably doesn't care about being liked, but he does want to be respected.

Still, Goodell doesn't help himself when he talks about player health and safety being at the forefront of the league, but there's a game every Thursday during the season and the owners have discussed an 18-game schedule.

"We don't have any information that indicates from our data that playing on Thursdays in any way decreases the safety of our players," he said. "You start with facts. The facts are that's not a risk to the players."

"As for the 18-game schedule, we have said we will do that the right way. That includes safety."

Poppycock.

The NFL has given players a week off between games for decades to allow their bodies to recover from games. Nowadays, there's nothing wrong with a game four days after the traditional Sunday game.

The players are bigger, stronger and faster than they've ever been. Teams can't keep enough healthy players to compete during a 16-game schedule.

Adding two more games is just dumb. Or greedy.

Silliness such as this is among the reasons Goodell isn't too popular right now with players or fans.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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