National Columnist

Goodell is a strict disciplinarian, but he's no racist


NFL players hate commissioner Roger Goodell. That's the narrative being written these days, and not just by that idiot James Harrison, who earns more in one year than most of us will earn in a lifetime but somehow sees himself as a victim of the NFL's insidious oppression.

That's the narrative being written by major media outlets everywhere. Newspapers, websites. This one. That one. Everywhere.

NFL players hate Roger Goodell.

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And that narrative doesn't read like fiction. It appears NFL players really do hate Roger Goodell.

I'm not here to dispute it, or even to wonder why. I know why. Players hate Goodell for the same reason some kids -- immature kids, short-sighted and self-centered kids -- hate their strict parents:

Tough love is no fun. Better to have a commissioner who commissions like Mike Brown runs the Bengals: Aww, my misguided little arrested Bengal, fret not. Here's a contract extension for you, and I'll surround you with Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson and Terrell Owens, just so you don't feel like the biggest jerk in the locker room. There ... better?


Goodell runs his league the way strong parents run their family: With rules, with parameters, with discipline. No shortcuts. No excuses. Tough love all the way, and if the players don't like it, well, it happens. Does a 16-year-old like it when he sneaks out for a night of drinking, gets busted, then gets grounded for three months? No, the teenager doesn't like it. Shocking.

Does James Harrison like it when he hits opponents in the head, jeopardizing their game, their season, their career -- and Goodell responds by fining him large sums of money? No. James Harrison doesn't like it. Shocking.

The narrative being written, though, is that Goodell is a bad guy -- and not just because James Harrison says it. Numbers of players, on the record and off, are saying it, and now the media is saying it. Newspapers, websites. This one. That one. Everywhere.

Whereas some in the media were cheerleaders for Goodell when he ascended to commissioner and immediately put his foot down as the tough-loving leader of this family -- I had my pom-poms out in 2007 -- now there are media folks going the other way. Writers are carrying the water for players, which is so ridiculous it's kind of cute.

In this column on, the writer wrote, "Many of the players believe they are negotiating against someone who is evil and racist." The writer charitably noted that Goodell is neither evil nor racist. Well, sort of. He wrote, "I don't know Goodell. I doubt he's evil and racist."

You doubt it?

Goodell is the guy who allowed Michael Vick back into the league after a crime so horrific that there were people -- thousands, more than that -- who would have been happy to never see Vick play again.

Goodell is the guy who suspended Ben Roethlisberger for four games for crimes that Roethlisberger was never even charged with. (For that, I laid down my pom-poms.) Roethlisberger, accused but never charged, was suspended four games. Michael Vick, found guilty of killing dogs, was suspended two games.

And Goodell is racist?


That's part of the narrative. The cleaner part is that players hate Goodell because he is judge and jury when it comes to suspending players, as if it would be better if Goodell hid behind someone else -- as NBA commissioner David Stern hides behind Stu Jackson, and MLB commissioner Bud Selig once hid behind Bob Watson and now hides behind Joe Garagiola Jr. That's not better. That's cowardly. And if NFL players can't see it, well, that's stupid.

The dirtier part of the narrative is that Goodell is racist. That's what James Harrison says, and by golly if James Harrison says it, then it must be true. Here's what Harrison told Men's Journal recently:

"I slammed Vince Young on his head and paid five grand, but just touched Drew Brees and that was 20 [grand]. You think black players don't see this [stuff] and lose all respect for Goodell?"

Interesting point, but then there's this. James Harrison was fined $75,000 for hitting Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. That fine was reduced to $50,000, but that's still two-and-a-half times the fine for hitting Brees, who is white. Massaquoi is black.

But Goodell is racist?

Goodell is, in the words of James Harrison, the "devil?"

Listen. Here's what Goodell is. He's a strict disciplinarian, the kind of father lots of sons would dislike in childhood, but would adore as adults. After they grew up, they would see that Goodell loved his kids, and his family, enough to do what he thought was right, even if his kids thought it was wrong. In the meantime he can handle their disdain, because they don't know what he knows.

And what Goodell knows is this: Every time James Harrison lowers his head and drives it into the back of Drew Brees' skull or into the front of Mohamed Massaquoi's face, someone could get hurt badly. Someone's career could end today. Someone's quality of life could be jeopardized tomorrow. All because of one horrific hit.

So Goodell spanks Harrison, or whomever, and he spanks them hard. And they don't like it. Hey, no surprise. Naughty kids never like their disciplinarian parents.

As for everyone else writing the narrative -- and writing it as if the players are right to hate Goodell -- well, I don't know what to say other than this:

Grow up.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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