NFL's Goodell damaged but not out after 'Deflategate' ruling

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 03, 2015 7:17 PM

By Steve Ginsburg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The NFL's defeat in the drawn-out "Deflategate" saga marked the latest setback in Roger Goodell's nine-year run as commissioner.

But as long as the National Football League continues to reap hefty profits, he is seen as unlikely to lose the league's top job anytime soon.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman on Thursday threw out Goodell's four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady over his alleged role in a scheme to deflate footballs used in a victory that put the Patriots in last season's Super Bowl.

Within hours of the ruling, the NFL appealed the order vacating Brady's four-game suspension.

But the case had become another test of Goodell's authority to discipline players after already having suffered reversals in the past year over the league's domestic abuse punishments meted out to Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy.

Boston College law professor Fred Yen, a sports law expert, said that with all of his miscalculations, it is possible Goodell "will be viewed as the commissioner who actually weakened the commissioner's office, not strengthened it."

"In a series of decisions, he was successfully second-guessed by the players so often that he not only undermined his own personal ability, but the ability of future commissioners to impose discipline," Yen said.

Last year, Goodell was excoriated for handing out light punishments to players accused of domestic abuse. But even when Goodell toughened the penalties, he ultimately lost out.

Rice, Peterson and Hardy each won their cases after their cases were heard either by the courts or by an arbitrator.

Back in 2012, Goodell's suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players were overturned in the "Bountygate" case, where players allegedly were paid bonuses, or "bounties," for injuring opposing team players.

The NFL said on Thursday it would appeal Judge Berman's ruling in the "Deflategate" case, potentially keeping the long-running soap opera in the news for months to come.

A.J. Maestas, president of a sports marketing research firm, Navigate, said he did not believe Goodell's job was in jeopardy because the league is making huge amounts of money and the owners are the only group that can oust him.

In terms of growth, Goodell is doing well on television revenue, the digital space and the league's international reach.

"If he keeps improving the league's bottom line, his legacy among his bosses will be untarnished by something like an overturned suspension," Maestas said.

Yen said owners would have to see how the Deflategate issue plays out before passing judgment on Goodell, although he thought the commissioner had miscalculated by banking on victory in court.

"The commissioner was arrogant," he said. "He certainly made a mountain out of molehill. C'mon, we're gong to waste this much time on the deflation of footballs?"

Michael Cramer, director of the Texas Program in Sports and Media at the University of Texas, said did not think the scandal would impact Goodell's legacy negatively.

But he also chided Goodell for suspending Brady for four games - the same penalty given to players who violate the league's policy on using performance-enhancing substances.

"At some point you've got to stop this crazy stuff of letting things get out in public that reflect on your league," Cramer said. "He has to pick his spots better."

"They picked up a case that had holes in it," he said. "And that's ultimately the commissioner's responsibility."

"The NFL's problem was raising it to this level. The cockiness of Tom Brady was only matched by the determination and stubbornness of the NFL to impose its will," Cramer added.

(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg, editing by Jill Serjeant)