NFL players may hate Roger Goodell, but he’s their biggest ally

Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith: Who speaks for the players? (AP photo)

Roger Goodell and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith: Who speaks for the players? (AP photo)

Weird. Even as the players’ association seeks to curb Roger Goodell’s power, the NFL commissioner is turning into the players’ best friend. The NFLPA just argued — and lost the argument — that Goodell lacked the authority to punish four New Orleans Saints in the egregious bounty program. In its defense of those four, the NFLPA overlooked a key detail:

The folks those Saints were trying to injure? They’re NFL players, too.

The Saints might not have been the worst offenders in the history of professional football, but they’re the best example available at a difficult time. The NFL is facing a torrent of lawsuits from former players who claim the league was negligent in its safeguarding of their health. Which leads us to note that the safeguarding of its membership’s health is usually the job of a union.

These class-action suits have the potential to damage the NFL in a way no strike/lockout ever has. Regarding pro football, we on the periphery have long been cognitively dissonant: We know the game is dangerous, but we watch because all those collisions are vastly entertaining. (To us, if not the men involved.) Hearing the details of former players’ declining well-being could make us reconsider whether our momentary enjoyment is worth the non-negotiable price they’ve paid.

In the attempt to get on the good side of a bad issue, Goodell has made a crusade against unnecessary roughness. Not that his definition of unnecessary would have flown in the days of Deacon Jones and his head-slap or Jack Tatum — title of his autobiography: “They Call Me Assassin” — and his head shots.

Somebody should have been looking out for the recipients of those hits back then. Nobody was. The NFLPA has long been the weakest of the sports unions. Its stock in trade is to decertify itself whenever its players get locked out and try to win in court what it cannot at the bargaining table. Sports fans bemoan the power that the baseball players’ union has come to wield — heck, Ryan Braun just got a steroid ban overturned — but nobody can ever accuse the MLBPA of not looking out for its members.

It’s easy to say that there would have been fewer concussions over the decades if the NFL players had hired Marvin Miller, who helped rid baseball of its oppressive “reserve clause,” to represent them, but it’s also true. The NFL has never had a Marvin Miller or a Donald Fehr to stand up for his players and to face down a powerful commissioner. (And the NFL, it must be noted, has nothing but powerful commissioners.) The odd part is that Goodell, who delights in flexing his authority in a way that even Pete Rozelle did not, has become the players’ chief ally.

The players he has fined/suspended don’t see it that way. (Their kneejerk response: Goodell is trying to sissify what used to be a man’s game.) But no player could fail to feel a chill when hearing that Junior Seau, among the fiercest players ever, had killed himself at age 43.

Let’s stipulate that the baseball players’ union did little to curb the apparent-t0-almost-everyone-else rise of steroid use, and that it resisted proposals for effective drug testing until it became clear that drug testing had to be done. Still, there’s a difference between injecting a steroid into yourself and slugging someone else in the head with a bat, which is the rough equivalent of what NFL players do to one another on a weekly basis. Taking steroids was a personal decision. The brutality of pro football is a corporate concern, and soon there stands to be corporate liability.

Alas, not soon enough. There’s no way to redo the ’60s and ’70s and equip those players with stronger helmets and better padding. (Incredibly, the NFLPA isn’t sure it wants the NFL-mandated thigh and knee pads.) There’s only tomorrow, and the blunt-spoken Goodell is making it his business to see that the players of today don’t face the same grim tomorrows that too many former NFL’ers have.

Yes, it’s odd. It’s as if the push for seat belts had been led not by the consumer advocate Ralph Nader but by the car manufacturers themselves. It’s as if Big Tobacco had said, “Know what? We do put too much tar and nicotine in these things.” I’m not sure we’ve ever seen any captain of commerce try to do as Goodell is doing, but bully for him.

By Mark Bradley

62 comments Add your comment

Tokyo Tom

June 4th, 2012
1:16 pm

Is the NFLPA looking to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?

Tokyo Tom

June 4th, 2012
1:21 pm

One other question- should the class action lawsuits against the NFL prevail & the league has to pay out big sums of money while changing contact rules, will the league suffer in terms of credibilty and support among the paying public? And, if so (really, the last question)- is worth the City/State to put up $300 million for a new stadium for a sport that, in 10 years, may be in decline?

GT Alum

June 4th, 2012
1:22 pm

Actually, Mark, the NFLPA put money over the players’ health and safety (as well as trying to keep a level playing field for all players) by using drug testing, specifically steroid testing, as a bargaining chip.

GT Alum

June 4th, 2012
1:24 pm

Sorry, I meant MLBPA.

Paul in NH

June 4th, 2012
1:26 pm

Roger Goodell is employed by the owners to do what is in their best interests and MB claims he is the players best ally? We’ll see about that when it comes to testifying in the collusion case.

jj

June 4th, 2012
1:29 pm

This is the beginning of the end of football.
First you have 1500-2000 former players suing the NFL, this can’t be good for the leauge or the union.
When you bring this many lawyers to the table it is sharks in blood infested waters, a feeding frenzy.
Now what happens when college players start suing the university?
Let’s move a little farther down the line where high schools are sued and the commuity decides they don’t want their tax dollars going to liability insureance instead of books. Far fetched…..you decide

GT Alum

June 4th, 2012
1:29 pm

Oops, should’ve read the whole article. So you say the MLBPA can’t be accused of not looking out for its players best interest, then give an example of one time they did a couple of paragraphs later, but dismiss it as not being as severe. There’s the quality reporting we’ve come to expect from you and the AJC.

GT Alum

June 4th, 2012
1:36 pm

Paul in NH -

Well, MB never claimed Goodell was doing it out of some altruistic motivation. He’s doing it because it’s in the best interest of everyone associated with the sport, including both the owners and the players.

GT Alum

June 4th, 2012
1:42 pm

MB, I don’t know if the players’ biggest complaint is that Goodell is sissifying the game. Their complaints seem to be that there’s no defined standards for how players are punished, so the punishments handed down seem to be pretty arbitrary, plus he’s taking money out of their pockets and time away from their already short careers. Throw in a bit of anti-authority rebellion and the fact that this is a wealthy white man disciplining primarily minority players.

VolGuy

June 4th, 2012
1:49 pm

FYI – it’s Ryan Braun.

Mark Bradley

June 4th, 2012
1:54 pm

It is Ryan Braun. I wish I could say I got him confused with Rob Deer, but actually I flashed on Rob Braun, who’s a TV anchor in Cincinnati.

Sage of Bluesland

June 4th, 2012
1:58 pm

Thanks to you blabbering sheep, more millionaires will suffer concussions. I’m done subsidizing this incompetence. Maybe one day you’ll all learn to do the same.

tom

June 4th, 2012
2:10 pm

Football is a volunteer sport and it ain’t for everyone. You know what your getting into the first time you get clocked in peewee and it is your choice to get up and play or quit

yatscatback

June 4th, 2012
2:21 pm

After sitting at field level for an NFL game many years ago, I marveled at the size and speed of the players. The kinetic energy in many collisions in the NFL would break the bones of many sturdy individuals. I am surprised there are not more injuries than what is reported.
Rules have evolved to remove gratuitous violence from the game. This effort is a work in progress because traditional teaching required mixing it up until the whistle sounded. The rationale for rules that prohibit contact relate to the philosophy of offense vs. defense. Any player who is no longer assisting with moving the ball forward or stoping the ball from moving forward should be protected from gratuitous contact. This flies in the face of the old teaching to “hit any opponent legally until you hear the whistle.”
If the non-contributory violence is not removed from the game, it will gradually lose favor with the public. Thus, reducing violence will contribute to the preservation of a game many of us love dearly.

Rickster

June 4th, 2012
2:27 pm

If the leaders of the NFLPA are trying to say that Goodell doesn’t have the authority to discipline players for flagrant (almost criminal) behavior… the leaders need to think about joining that concussion lawsuit – ’cause they’ve had their brains rattled at least one too many times.

Larry

June 4th, 2012
2:33 pm

Leave it to an idiot like GT Alum to find way to insert the race card in a non racial discussion.

steve brown

June 4th, 2012
2:45 pm

Ignorance is bliss. Goodell only represents the owners. In that role he is trying to save them billions in lawsuit damages and perhaps their game itself. If any of this helps players it is purely coincidental.

blue

June 4th, 2012
2:59 pm

Paul; even though he didn’t specify, I’m pretty sure he was referring to their best ally as it pertains to player safety. I think it is a given that he would not be their best ally regarding money, contracts in general, etc. He was obviously specifically talking about the direct hipocrisy between the players claiming the league turned a blind eye to a safety issue for years and now the players are railing on the league because they WON’T turn a blind eye to a safety related issue.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

June 4th, 2012
3:17 pm

Hey Mark, can you tell me why you and Jeff never post any current qb posts?

Maybe one like you guys used to routinely do about Vick the Falcon and Vick the Eagle.

GT Alum

June 4th, 2012
3:28 pm

Larry, I’m not the first to raise the issue of race. A number of people raised it then when Big Ben was accused of rape, because of how Goodell has disciplined other players for off-the-field behavior. And if you think that doesn’t play into players’ perceptions of Goodell and his discipline, you really are naive. Don’t forget some NFL players compared the labor situation to slavery during the lockout.

froggy

June 4th, 2012
3:46 pm

Another excellent column, Mark. Players are injured by, uh, other players. The young brash millionaires playing today will become the addled litigants of tomorrow if nothing changes. The union’s idea of player safety is to reduce practice time — and they oppose sanctions against bounties for deliberately and intentionally maiming one another. Crazy.

jerry

June 4th, 2012
4:45 pm

Something really stinks. Oh, it’s that lawyer smell.

Sage of Bluesland

June 4th, 2012
4:54 pm

Nope, that port-a-potty smell is Don Waddell. I know that blithering fraud’s stench anywhere.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Stank Wren

June 4th, 2012
5:03 pm

The players union picks fights because they have to give the impression that they actually do something and that the players are getting their moneys worth when the union takes a chunk of their check every week. How does a union function when some players make the league minimum and other players make $25 million per year??? The NFLPA and all other professional sports unions are a joke.

[...] Players Association challenged Goodell's power to impose penalties for what the league …NFL players may hate Roger Goodell, but he's their biggest allyAtlanta Journal Constitution [...]

Roger & Me

June 4th, 2012
6:42 pm

Mr. Mark Bradley knows his stuff.

current qb post

June 4th, 2012
6:48 pm

Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to records of
11-5
9-7
13-3
10-6
Mike Vick, … not so much.

jeffrey

June 4th, 2012
7:13 pm

I hate goodell so much I won’t buy a football with his name on it. Now he’s going after the refs. He’s an idiot. Did anyone see his oped in the wall street journal during the strike? Hr thinks everyone is as dumb as s linebacker. What a maroon.

Linebacker U

June 4th, 2012
7:32 pm

Linebacker are not dumb, jeffrey.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

DavidGilmour

June 4th, 2012
9:15 pm

Through………………… If you condemn a group of dumbas-ses you should at least be accurate

OhhhNooo

June 4th, 2012
11:03 pm

32 owners, 32 pro football teams call NFL they got money and power, you don’t and work for them you lose unless they let you win hah!

Joe 12-Pack

June 4th, 2012
11:15 pm

What I like about Roger Goodell is that he is not afraid of those meatheads. He is not afraid of anyone. Unlike those indecisive wimps David Stern and Bud Selig.

RogerWaters

June 5th, 2012
2:12 am

Steroids has been more rampant in NFL through the yrs but has always fallen on deaf ears..ironic to me…

legionaire

June 5th, 2012
4:21 am

A union is a union. It is about protecting the weak, ignorant, and unethical. the union leader is just a mouth piece for the thug mentality of the league now. It is my guess the NFL will settle the lawsuits the same way that the tobacco industry did. They made billions with commercials showing extreme hits. They publicized the toughness of the Steelers and Bears. They chuckled at the Raiders being the last stop for dirty and nutty players. Both the players union and the NFL are dirty and corrupt to the core.

El Bingo es Loco

June 5th, 2012
6:44 am

Goodell…the players biggest ally? BWAHAHAHAHAHA…what an absolute JOKE.

Almighty Roger looks out for one group and one group only – the owners. Regardless on where you stand on the Saints issue, to have one person with the power of judge, jury, and executioner is inexcusable.

Nativebird

June 5th, 2012
7:58 am

That’s because union leaders are ultimately a result of a group identity culture, of subordinating the individual to a group based on what you are, not who you are or what youre actions are. Therefor union leaders themselves become thugs, become corrupt. They are clearly not out for the well being of the individual player. Instead they are for onething and one thing only…union leadership itself. This is true of ALL unions.

Joey

June 5th, 2012
8:07 am

So . . . Loco, maybe you would like the players to have all the power?

That would work out really well, with half of former players so stupid they’ve pissed away $$ Millions.

Yeah, that’s who needs to be running the show.

Sage of Bluesland

June 5th, 2012
8:41 am

(Nice attempts, fake Sage)

“Goodell…the players biggest ally? BWAHAHAHAHAHA…what an absolute JOKE. Almighty Roger looks out for one group and one group only – the owners….”

This is spot-on correct. Goodell is fearful of the avalanche of lawsuits poised above the league right now….Just wait and see how many more are filed if these initial ones are successful. We’re talking about changing the game significantly–which could lead to a downfall of the product itself.

Goodell’s actions are NOT done out of the goodness of his heart! Laughable!

bill

June 5th, 2012
9:38 am

Years ago helmet manufacturers recommended reducing the protection a helmet provided so that players could not use it as a weapon. Playeres are stupid they are told at age 5 not to use their head but they insist on hitting head first. A helmet will keep blood off the ball but it does nothing to stop your brain from hitting the side of your skull. Players find out what they are worth after their playing careers are over. At that time they are worth almost nothing. Jamal Lewis is an example. He made millions while playing and millions more in the drug business while playing. He was found guilty and should have served time but did not so he thinks he is invincible. His brain problem has nothing to do with his football injuries. Its because he is a narcistic fool.

bill

June 5th, 2012
9:40 am

are these the same players who refused to help the earlier retirees. They desrve no more than the consideration they gave the guys who helped build the league.

bill

June 5th, 2012
9:41 am

Th NFL is a nonprofit organization. Crazy U s Laws.

Big Dawg Daddy

June 5th, 2012
9:58 am

MLB Union looking out for the well being of it’s players. Is that what you call the decades they blocked drug testing in baseball? Mark you have to be kidding with that comment right?

Old Dawg

June 5th, 2012
11:31 am

Amen, Brother Bradley. Good piece!

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

June 5th, 2012
11:37 am

current qb post

June 4th, 2012
6:48 pm

Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to records of
11-5
9-7
13-3
10-6
Mike Vick, … not so much.

_______________________________________________

Lets look deeper…..shall we?…..okay………

Matt Ryan has led the Falcons to records of

11-5 2 PICKS & SAFETY……………..1 & Done
9-7 NO PLAYOFFS
13-3 WORST PLAYOFF LOST IN FALCANTS HISTORY
10-6 ONLY TEAM IN FALCANTS HISTORY TO HAVE ZERO OFFENSIVE POINTS
Mike Vick, … not so much.

Of course the WHOLE world knows what the 22 year old Mike Vick did in Lambeau that no other qb in NFL History ever did……..Beat the Great Brett Favre and the Packers in their own back yard.

Of course the WHOLE world knows what Vick did to the Greatest Show on Turf (46-17). The BIGGEST Blowout in Falcants playoff history.

Need I remind anyone that Vick still remains the last qb to win a playoff game for the Falcants?

Comments? Commentary?….HA HA :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

June 5th, 2012
11:40 am

Oh by the way on ESPN the NFC Prediction:

1. Panthers

2. Falcants

3. Saints

4. Bucs

Damn the Falcants can’t even beat out Carolina in a down Saints year :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

June 5th, 2012
11:42 am

Mark Bradley

I’m still waiting on those qb columns……………….

Come on don’t worry so much about CHOKEs delicate feelings :)

BooBoo

June 5th, 2012
1:17 pm

Wake up and smell the greed. Professional sports are given a license by Congress to be monolopies. A monolopy means some people get very rich due to having cornered a market, and trust laws were written to prevent monopolies from taking place. The “anti”-trust laws reverse those controls, giving professional sports the rights to do as they please. However, the past 40 years have had players organizing in unions to get their “fair” share of the monopoly pie. Players today regularly make many millions of dollars before they play in one game or practice one day. That money is not coming from the pockets of owners. It is coming from YOUR wallet. YOU pay the higher prices charged for items advertised on televised sports games. YOU pay higher ticket prices to go to games. YOU pay higher prices to be walking billboards for professional sports teams. What do you get in return? Nada. A player uses your money to buy an agent to get more of your money, by pretending it is coming from the owners. Players get so much of your money they think they are royalty, so when a player does something that us normal people would go to jail for (plot to do bodily harm to someone, in gang-like attacks on the ussuspecting), the only recourse a monopoly has is to have a commissioner make a ruling. Rulings can be challenged, just to make sure rulings are fair – with “fair” determined by the fairness of “anti”-trust laws, not normal law. Thus “Eight men Out” of baseball for cheating. Thus Pete Rose banned from the Hall of Fame. Thus thugs forbidden to play games and get paid for games not played. If it ever comes time to let players do acts of crime and not get punished, it is time to call your congressman or woman and have them rescend the antitrust exemptions that allow professional sports to be allowed by law. Turn them all out on their ears. Make them earn a real living. Let the equal opportunity laws make it possible for you to go apply to be an offensive lineman or catcher or power forward, just because you think you can play a game. Expect to get the standard union rate of $12.45 an hour.

Really!?!

June 5th, 2012
1:24 pm

Of course the WHOLE world knows what the 22 year old Mike Vick did in Lambeau that no other qb in NFL History ever did……..Beat the Great Brett Favre and the Packers in their own back yard.
Of course the WHOLE world knows what Vick did to the Greatest Show on Turf (46-17). The BIGGEST Blowout in Falcants playoff history.
Need I remind anyone that Vick still remains the last qb to win a playoff game for the Falcants?
-Matt “CHOKE” Ryan

No, nobody needs reminding of those facts. But you apparently need to be reminded that the only postseason victory that means anything is the Super Bowl.
Did Vick happen to win one of those? No.
Has he with more talent, and better coaching, in Philly than he ever had in Atlanta? No.
Did Matt Ryan need to be thrown in prison to realize that he had to work his tail off to be a good QB (which he is)? No.
Has Matt Ryan ever quit on this team like Mike Vick? No.
Has he ever flicked off his own fans like Mike Vick? No.
Do defenses win championships (I’m looking at you, Eli)? Yes.
Did Peyton Manning have any postseason wins after 3 trips to the playoffs? No. What a bust he was.
Do they hand out rings for beating Brett Farve at Lambeau in the Wild Card Round? No.
Is there a special trophy for setting rushing records against St. Louis in the Divisional Round? No.

Need I also remind you that, outside of Vick’s exciting/meaningless rushing stats, Matt Ryan has eclipsed him in almost every category (Passer Rating, Yards, TDs, Completion %, WINS!!!) in only 4 seasons.
Matt Ryan has provided this team with a consistency and competency that Atlanta has NEVER KNOWN. He made Roddy White relevant (a feat that Vick could never accomplish). He’s a team leader (Vick was a lone wolf. Try reading history instead of rewriting it). He is the best shot the Falcons have ever had at actually hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Guys who should have been given up on after four seasons:
Drew Brees won his first ring in his 9th season.
Peyton Manning won his first ring in his 9th season.
The Great Brett Favre won his ONLY ring in his 6th season.
Aaron Rodgers won his first ring in his 6th season.

You need to take your Ritalin and realize that Vick has had over a decade to prove what he is and he has proved wanting. His last two seasons in a Falcons uniform were marked by such epic collapses (2-6 finishes in 05 and 06) that it boggles the mind how people can with a straight face claim that Vick was the high water mark for this franchise. HE’S GONE, GET OVER IT!

Oh, and great article Mr. Bradley!