A few quick words about the Deflation saga (No, I refuse to use a word including a suffix word beginning with G. That is so…1970’s).
A judge today vacated the 4 game suspension imposed on Tom Brady and, in the process, excoriated and dismissed most of the NFL’s arguments in its pleadings.
Some quick points:
1. Roger Goodell is not going to be fired…yet. He works for the NFL’s owners, and he will leave only when they decide they want somebody else to be the Commissioner. However, it is clear that some owners are apprehensive and concerned about the clearly negative PR impact of the saga.
2. Despite his occasional attempts to portray himself as neutral in matters of discipline and punishment, Goodell is not neutral. See (1) above
3. If Tom Brady’s suspension has been vacated, then the future draft picks removed from the New England Patriots ought to be restored also. It seems fundamentally unfair that the team’s quarterback’s punishment has been vacated, but the team’s punishment has not been vacated.
4. Despite the NFL’s insistence that they will appeal, they have not asked for a stay. I suspect that this is partly because they know they are unlikely to get one (if you have just been told that your arguments are mostly steaming brown fertilizer, the reaction to an application for a stay is likely to be either laughter or a GTFOOMC), but also partly because they realize that, with the season about to begin, the focus needs to be on playing games, not arguing about player discipline. NBC, Fox, ESPN et al are paying for the product on the pitch, not the behind-scenes wrangling. I expect the NFL are appealing because they can, not because they feel they have any chance of success
5. The NFL has now been slapped around the head over three recent disciplinary matters; Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and now the deflation saga. (We must also not forget the earlier decision by Paul Tagliabue to vacate a number of punishments for the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.)
6. The domino effect of this result will be felt from this point forward, with players who have been disciplined by the NFL very likely to threaten or actually take the NFL to court to get suspensions and fines overturned. The credibility of the entire NFL disciplinary process is somewhere between zero and diddly squat at present.
There are some bigger underlying dynamics that have only occasionally been discussed in the media:
1. The NFL has a labor agreement, but it does not have labor peace. The owners bailed early on the last CBA, which was negotiated by Paul Tagliabue and the late Gene Upshaw, because they decided that it was too favorable to the players. They then hoarded cash and hard-line owners made it clear that they would support a lock-out if they did not get what they wanted from a new CBA. The new CBA is more favorable to the owners, and the NFL players know that and resent it. One way in which it is more favorable is the provision for the Commissioner to dispense discipline as he sees fit. This is an easy target for the players to fire at, partly because of the recent extent to which Goodell has used his disciplinary powers to sanction players for perceived bad behavior under the current CBA, but also because the players can fight individual instances of player discipline whenever they occur. They have no recourse over the rest of the CBA, which has no opt-out clauses on either side, and runs until the end of the 2020 season.
2. By all accounts, Goodell’s actions on discipline have been consistently supported by a group of hard-line owners who believe that the NFL should be able to impose pretty much any sort of discipline it sees fit. Those owners (who are, for the most part, elderly rich guys used to getting their way in life) are the ones leading the get-tough approach. Now that the NFL has been slapped around the head in court, it will be interesting to see if the hard-line faction loses influence, or whether they dig in. Ultimately, Roger Goodell will do what the majority of owners want him to do. If he fails to do their bidding, he will be replaced, although there is no obvious successor waiting, unlike when Paul Tagliabue was Commissioner, when Goodell was the heir-apparent for several years, and his accession to Commissioner after Tagliabue’s retirement was one of the most obvious worst-kept secrets in sports.
The net result is exemplified by De Maurice Smith’s quote from Profootball Talk:
“Asked about the players’ trust in the league and Goodell, Smith answered, “It’s gone.””