Don't blame Goodell for Ray Rice suspension

Don't blame Goodell for Ray Rice suspension
July 25, 2014, 9:00 am
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It's high time we stopped pretending the commissioner is the reason Ray Rice gets two games and loses one week’s pay for beating up his fiancée.
Ray Ratto

It is time, past time really, for us to get ourselves off the commissioner standard. It will be hard, and it will force us to memorize 122 names we don’t normally care about, but it must be done.

In short, we have to stop thinking commissioners guide their leagues at all. It has always been a myth, except for those rare times when a commissioner actually does make policy and gets fired as a result. We have to mature and think rationally about this, and frankly, stop bringing up commissioners’ names at all as shorthand for the decisions of their betters.

This is true for Bud Selig or his putative successor. It is true of Gary Bettman. It is even true of Adam Silver, who is taking the owners’ lead on the money and reputation drain that is Donald Sterling. The owners turned on Sterling, one of their own, when he started messing with everyone’s bottom line and attacked one of their corporate icons, Magic Johnson, and so Silver was given instructions which he has faithfully and cleverly carried out, to the extent that trying to discipline a certified loon while giving him $2 billion can be carried out.

Toward that understanding, that the real power in sports lies not with commissioners but with the men who sign their expense reports, the people responsible for the Ray Rice suspension are as follows:

The Bidwill family in Phoenix; Arthur Blank in Atlanta; Steve Bisciotti in Baltimore; the Wilson Family Trust in Buffalo; Jerry Richardson in Charlotte; the McCaskey family in Chicago; Mike Brown in Cincinnati; Jimmy Haslam in Cleveland.

And:

Jerry Jones in Dallas; Joe Ellis for the Bowlen family in Denver; William Clay Ford, Jr., in Detroit;

And:

The citizens of Green Bay, Wisconsin; Bob McNair in Houston; Jim Irsay in Indianapolis; Shahid Khan in Jacksonville; Clarke Hunt in Kansas City.

And:

Steve Ross in Miami; Zygi Wilf in Minnesota; Robert Kraft in Boston; Tom Benson in New Orleans; the Mara and Tisch families in New York; Woody Johnson in New York; Mark Davis in Oakland; Jeff Lurie in Philadelphia.

And:

The Rooney family in Pittsburgh; Stan Kroenke in St. Louis; Alex and Dean Spanos in San Diego; Jed York in San Francisco; Paul Allen in Seattle; The Glazer family in Tampa; Susie Adams Smith and Amy Adams Hunt of Nashville, and Danny Snyder of Washington, D.C.

Those are the 32 owners who pay Roger Goodell to take the heat for underpunishing Ray Rice, and for not punishing themselves at all. They are the ones who set the standards for talent and tolerance and non-interference in team affairs. They are the ones who pay him to be the league’s front man. They are the ones in charge.

And they are the ones you should be angry with today. Naming them will help you, even if it takes 38 times as many words to do it.

Oh, be angry with Goodell, too. After all, he knew the job was more talk than walk when he took it, and he gets paid cheerfully and handsomely for being the front man.

But he still is the front man, and when he is taking the heat for decisions like Thursdays, he is serving his corporate overlords. The ones who want him to take the heat, but never ever give it.

In other words, let’s get past the myth of the commissioner as mastermind and get to the heart of this. The owners. They are the ones who need their good (read: expensive) players (read: assets) protected from the vagaries of codified punishments and the vagaries of societal scorn when it serves.

And they’re the ones who don’t want to catch the heat when it flies in the face of rationality, decency and proportionality, as does the Rice suspension.

That’s why we mentioned the 32 owners here – because it is high time we stopped pretending the commissioner is the reason Ray Rice gets two games and loses one week’s pay for beating up his fiancée. It is on us to stop letting shorthand guide our ire and point the finger where it actually belongs – in 32 different directions at once.

True, most folks are 22 fingers short of getting the job done properly; 12 digits short, if you have sufficiently educated toes. But this was a league decision, one that didn’t need a conference call. Goodell knew, as he must to keep his job, that any decisions made that are not in the best interests of his bosses’ profitability or competitive benefit will be the decisions of a short-timer. Owners do not like their assets being removed from the production line, and they do not like commissioners who think that is a good idea even with other owners’ assets. They compete, but in a greater sense they are partners, and they need their interests protected from a noisome public.

You know. Us. To them, we are merely wallets with feet, and by damn, we will stay that way.

Thus, your rage at the Rice suspension should be directed at the 32 men who see to it that Roger Goodell has their backs, first last and always. If it means the next few NFL public service announcements are greeted with derision and laughter, so be it, but mythbreaking is hard work. You, for example, now have to be angry at about 50 or 60 more people than you thought you did.

But we have to get off the commissioner standard some time, so why not now? Believing in the commissioner standard is like believing in an economist who makes public pronouncements on a chicken-based monetary system because he is paid by the hen industry. It is kid’s stuff, and with what’s at stakein professional entertainment these days, kids can’t hang.

So here’s to the owners, who made their latest statement on talent/tolerance. Let them own what they have done as a collective, and remove their distance and deniability. Let’s know who they are, and let’s list their names at times like this. The commissioner standard is beneath us, and let’s treat it as the shorthand it is. Let’s remember who runs things, even if it means having to memorize the names of 100 people rather than a few.