THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Goodell should go: Commish makes another power play
Some NFL fans can call a penalty before a flag is thrown; I cannot. I still expect the clock to stop when a ball carrier goes out of bounds. After embarrassing myself over five-yard penalties, I've learned to have eggs, not a big bowl of stupid, for breakfast.
Evidently, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell still eats his bowl of stupid. One would think he would have switched to oatmeal after being rebuked by a Senate Judiciary Committee for "Spygate," but one would be wrong. Less than a year after that scandal, facing another crisis of trust, Goodell is washing down stupid with a glass of dictatorship.
At the center of this crisis is Ed Hochuli. The NFL's most famous referee, a man who has officiated two Super Bowls and numerous championship games, who is the featured referee in Madden NFL and who heads the NFL Referees' Association, is counting on the chastened Commissioner to make a power play.
This season Ed Hochuli has been punting away his hopes of officiating a third Super Bowl. When the Broncos played the Chargers on September 14, Hochuli not only called a questionable interception, his miscall of a Denver fumble as an incomplete pass led to not only a Broncos' touchdown but to the team's one-point victory.
Naturally, money started pouring into the NFL coffers.
There's this little thing in the NFL's constitution, Article 9.1(c)(4), that according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, prohibits "criticism that constitutes a personal attack or an attack on the integrity of the officials." That's defensible. After all, it's not very nice for a linebacker to tell a referee that his momma wears combat boots, but legitimate criticism is okay, right?
Apparently not. For Roger Goodell, the man who still smarts from being slapped around by the Senate, Article 9.1(c)(4) is a waste of power: power over players, power over owners, power over anyone who questions his authority.
When San Diego coach Norv Turner called Ed Hochuli's game-changing calls "unacceptable," the NFL couldn't fine him a penny, though they tried. Unfortunately for the power-hungry Commissioner, not even NFL attorneys could find a way to turn "unacceptable" into a personal attack. With Goodell's Spygate-weakened reputation hanging in the balance, something had to be done.
Taking a lesson from dictators before him, Goodell decided to consolidate his power by publicly throttling those who threatened his rule. Goodell's ambition to become the savior of the NFL demanded he create– in the hallowed words of Zaire dictator Mobutu, the conditions of regime discipline: "When a chief takes a decision, he decides– period."
In this instance, Goodell decided that criticism of game officials was "destructive" and "corrosive," and he was going to stop it.
Less than a week after Greg Aiello announced that Norv Turner would not be fined, Roger Goodell issued a memo to all key NFL employees: any and all criticism of game officials is henceforth prohibited, regardless of whether the questioned calls are accurate or inaccurate. A first-time offense draws a $25,000 fine, and subsequent violations will result in loss of a draft pick.
As with any constitution, legally, any change should have been put before NFL owners and board members for a vote, but Goodell couldn't risk it. Jerry Jones, perhaps the most famous and influential of all NFL owners, has been one of Ed Hochuli's most outspoken critics, saying he's "quick to call penalties" and should "keep that whistle out of [his] mouth."
Don't think that comment didn't cost him.
Not only has the memo made over $40,000 in less than two weeks, it's protected Hochuli and showed Goodell's muscle. This past weekend, Hochuli made another bogus call that wiped out a Carolina Panthers' interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons, but nary a criticism has been uttered.
Like most dictators, Goodell may present himself as a savior, but that bowl of stupid he has for breakfast has blinded him to the fact that the people he oppresses are the ones who elected him in the first place. Goodell and Hochuli may feel safe, but it's only a matter of time until another bogus call blows another game. My guess is that when the critics come calling, they won't let a memo get in their way.