Unless you've been vacationing on Mars all summer, you are well aware that many a celebrity has been in trouble of late. We couldn't get the blonde bimbo Rome Ramada off TV and now the NFL quarterback from Atlanta, aka Ron Mexico, is making the headlines again. It's tough for sports fans when athletes go astray because we end up seeing the crime beat juxtaposed onto the sports page.
This most recent case, involving dog fighting, has hit a nerve nationwide. It has been covered 24/7 on the sports networks and on the news channels. With football season fast approaching and the next court date not until late November, it is not likely to go away anytime soon. Before it is over it will make the media coverage of Kobe Bryant seem like a want ad.
I consider myself not an optimist or a pessimist but a realist. The reality of the matter is the Atlanta Falcons have never been real good with or without their $130,000,000.00 quarterback. They've had only a few good moments, some with him, some without. Only time will tell what the 2007 season will hold, and truthfully, it doesn't really matter in the big scheme of things.
As I have listened to, and read about, this case along with other NFL players that attract trouble such as Pacman Jones and Odell Thurman, I can see a possible hero in the making. That man is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Goodell has been NFL Commissioner for just under a year and he is laying down the law to troublemakers in the league. His message has been to straighten up and fly right. He's making it clear that if you don't, you will be gone from the NFL. It seems that he has the support, at least for now, of the executive-director of the player's association (NFLPA) Gene Upshaw. He has made examples of Jones, Thurman and the dogfighter.
To continue in this role, Goodell is going to need a thick skin and the continued backing of the large fortune of the NFL ownership. He has taken the rare approach of a leader that makes a tough decision and asks questions later. His job is to protect the financial empire that is the NFL and to prevent any damage to its reputation.
Goodell's background is that of an economist in the business end of the NFL. He seems very aware that innocent until proven guilty and due process are facets only of the legal system. The court of public opinion renders verdicts much quicker, and no doubt Goodell knows this. He is keen to the fact that no NFL team can afford to be scorned by the public while waiting on the judicial process to move at a snail's pace. That would cost the NFL millions of dollars and chase away fans.
The NFL and Goodell has a large team of lawyers at its disposal, and I would think that he is suspicious that sooner or later the league will be sued over the approach that he is taking. The ACLU, NFLPA, PETA, and every other letter of the alphabet, will eventually try to get a bite out of the NFL's behind. Some in our society will inevitably start to say that he is being too heavy-handed with our professional football stars. Mark my words, his authority will be challenged.
I call Goodell a "possible hero" because he will have to prove himself over time. The ball can bounce two ways. He can hang tough and use the NFL as a platform that starts swinging the momentum in our country back toward what is right. He has the opportunity to set an example for every CEO, politician, judge, and school principal out there. He can help make being tough acceptable again.
He could also end up buckling under the pressure that is sure to come. There is no doubt some will try to intimidate him into letting up. This pressure will come from those looking to make an easy buck or some loud special interest. They will threaten him with claims of unfairness, litigation and shakedowns.
Will Goodell be able, or more importantly, willing to hold the fort? I hope so. It would be worth all of the resources available to the NFL if he can stand firm. That will be a big victory that can benefit us all over the long haul. Bigger even than a Super Bowl win. And we know what that is worth.