THESPORTSDOC- Goodell: Blowhard or man of his word?

Here on the backside of the summer solstice, surely it's time to start thinking about football. With Buffalo playing Tennessee on August 9, there's not much time left to get ready for the start of the season. For most people, that means stocking up on wings and attaching car flags. For Roger Goodell, preparing for football season poses much more of a challenge.

Commissioner Goodell has backed himself into a pretty tight corner. A couple of years ago, mere moments after suspending "Pacman" Jones and Chris Henry, Goodell released his strengthened personal conduct policy. After years of dealing with thuggish receivers and criminal cornerbacks, the Commissioner had had enough. 

"It's important that the NFL be represented consistently by outstanding people as well as great football players, coaches, and staff," Goodell said in his 2007 statement. "We hold ourselves to higher standards of responsible conduct because of what it means to be part of the National Football League."

In anticipation of a calmer, more peaceful league, the Commissioner's 2007 policy stated, "It's not enough to simply avoid being found guilty of a crime... you're held to a higher standard and expected to conduct yourself in a way that's responsible (and) promotes the values upon which the league is based."

Fine and dandy, but in the two years since Goodell's oft-quoted statement, he has been less than unswerving. Avoiding being found guilty should be more than enough to satisfy Roger Goodell. The Commish has repeatedly let offenders have their days in court before doling out punishment– and if behavior has been unsavory and shameful rather than criminal, well, there's been no discipline whatsoever. 

And why should there be? Goodell isn't preparing debutantes for the Bal du Bois. This is the NFL, not a garden party. Who cares whether players' behavior reflects well on the league? They're rich, entitled, self-possessed gladiators of the gridiron, for crying out loud. Just as Orson Welles would "drink no wine before its time," Goodell will suspend no man before his...well, you get it.

So, with pro football '09 looming over us, Goodell faces his first big test. Will he walk the walk or just talk the talk? Is Roger Goodell the man he claimed to be in 2007– or has he rolled over, as so many commissioners before him? There's only one way to find out. 

See Plaxico Burress: former New York Giant receiver, victim of his own bungling, erratic driver, unlicensed handgun owner, trial dodger, and violator of the NFL's personal conduct policy many times over. What, oh what, will Commissioner Goodell do with young Plaxico? 

Goodell has never suspended Burress, although the Giants have done so on numerous occasions. Granted, when a warrant was issued for Burress after he failed to pay $90,000 in back taxes, it was 2005, before Goodell instituted the "conduct unbecoming" rule. However, in June 2008 when Burress' wife secured a temporary restraining order against him following a domestic disturbance, Goodell did nothing. When she took out another in August following a second domestic dustup, the Commissioner still remained silent.

Currently Burress' lawyers have managed to have his trial date pushed up to 2010. If Goodell remains true to form, he won't suspend Burress until he's found guilty in a court of law, which means any team that's so inclined (i.e. the Chicago Bears) could have Plaxico on the field in August. 

But what about all that "It's not enough to simply avoid being found guilty of a crime" business? Burress is relying on Goodell's consistency. If he didn't suspend Burress in 2008, why on earth is he going to suspend him now? The Commissioner didn't even suspend Donté Stallworth after he pled guilty to killing a man while driving drunk. Goodell waited until after Stallworth was convicted and sentenced before taking any action.

Poor Roger Goodell. He managed to avoid having to make any decision about Burress last year, as the receiver was unable to play thanks to a self-inflicted bullet wound. He can't avoid it anymore. He either allows Burress to play in August or he doesn't. It seems simple enough, but Goodell's entire reputation hinges on this one decision. Did he mean what he said in 2007 or is he just a blowhard with no backbone? And whatever he decides about Burress, Goodell still has to deal with Michael Vick.

Have a great summer, Rog.