|Goodell's power is only a problem for players who do dumb things, one player says. (US Presswire)|
Players like Roger Goodell and they hate him. They respect him and they don't. Emotions about Goodell run strong but they also include, perhaps surprisingly, a sizeable helping of indifference.
Surprising because over the past year the NFL and its players have been engaged in some of the most bitter fighting the league has ever seen -- from the lockout to Bountygate. In some instances, particularly in the case of the Saints, the players were hammered by Goodell.
One would expect the players to despise Goodell (and some do) but the overriding feeling expressed by players in interviews was not anger or bitterness but apathy.
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With the lockout a distant memory, the Saints case beginning to shift to past tense as well (somewhat) and a new season soon beginning with training camps, a fresh look at Goodell's relationship with the players is needed. That relationship is slightly less complicated than many may know. In fact, it seems, some players see Goodell as neither ally nor enemy, but instead someone who plays a very small part in their daily existences.
"The truth is, to most players, Roger Goodell doesn't have a huge impact on their lives," said Lions defensive end Cliff Avril, "unless they do something really stupid."
And when it comes to Goodell's prosecution of Bountygate there is the same feeling of growing indifference.
"It's been going on for so long," Texans defensive back Alan Ball said. "I think most players have reached a point where they don't care as much. If something happens to finalize it, great. If not, OK."
Goodell and the Saints scandal are genetically linked. And while there is clearly a faction of players who don't like Goodell and think he's abusing his power with the Saints situation, there seems to be a growing block of the rank and file that simply don't care about Goodell or the Saints. They just want to move on.
During the lockout (and before) the dislike of Goodell by the players was so palpable it clicked like a Geiger counter at Chernobyl. But interviews with a number of players now show that both the dislike of Goodell and reaction to Bountygate among most players may have lessened dramatically.
Not because players suddenly like Goodell but because the rank and file have a severe case of Goodell and Bountygate fatigue like so many others.
"I think most players feel this way: my mind's not on the commissioner," Ball said. "During the lockout and before the lockout when he was punishing guys pretty regularly and pretty harshly, it was. Basically now some guys like what he's doing and some guys don't, but most guys just don't have time to care anymore."
An NFC player concurred: "There's Goodell fatigue, there's bounty fatigue, there's fatigue from all the fighting with owners. I think a lot of players feel it's just time to put all this stuff behind us."
To be clear, all of the players backed the union and its confrontational approach with Goodell. Yet there's definitely something to what Avril said that seems to be resonating among many of the players.
They don't necessarily like the fact Goodell has final say on many discipline issues and there is no neutral arbitrator, as in the Saints case. But the feeling many seem to have is as long as they avoid Pacman Jones-type of trouble they won't ever be before Goodell, so they don't get as worked up over his power.
Union officials say privately that none of the Saints players ever believed they'd be in this position yet, here they are, and that's why they feel Goodell's power needs limiting. That message may not be reaching all of the players.
"Don't do anything stupid and it doesn't matter how much power Goodell has," said one player.
It's been stated by some in the media and others that if players had the lockout to do all over again, they would have fought Goodell at the end, and challenged him on his final say over certain punitive actions. But players now seem to confirm the opposite: the union's decision to avoid risking the season in a brawl over Goodell's powers was the right one.
Players are now making the same calculations the union did at that time. The truth is only a handful of players end up in Goodell's office. It wasn't worth it to the majority to lose a year's worth of paychecks because a few players run into trouble.
In other words, the player base is composed mostly of men who raise families, don't beat women, don't get DUIs, but are good people who just want to play football. Goodell's powers don't apply to them, they think, because they'll never be that stupid.
One player called the fighting between the players and Goodell, as well the Saints bounty situation, "mythical drama."
There is drama but there's also a great deal of something else when it comes to Goodell -- some players just don't give a damn about him.