Roger Goodell will come to New Orleans as a villain, as is the primary job of all commissioners these days. He does so knowing that, because he is the one who dropped the hammer on the Wild West show that was the Saints’ BountyGate program, he derailed the local team’s recent run of greatness.
In other words, he was handed a box full of smoking guns by the Saints, acted on them by punishing the team from the bottom up (the standard commissioner’s m.o.) and interrupted a three-year run of double-digit wins.
And the fans will remember that. They will almost certainly forget what he did to rush, blackjack and cajole the rebuilding of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina, and for more on this, Les Carpenter’s excellent piece in Yahoo.com is a valuable resource.
But it is Goodell’s role to be the bad guy, because like Gary Bettman, David Stern and Bud Selig, it is what he is paid to be. Largely this is the effect of his role as a management representative in the recent lockout, as it becomes increasingly obvious to even the most obtuse of us that he functions as the owners’ sergeant-at-arms.
And not only is there no honor in that, there is considerable contempt. It has been instrumental in turning him from the most likable (or least detestable, depending on your position) commissioner with the best public image to just another guy in a suit who works for the rich ones.
All commissioners have been that throughout time, of course. It is a role that plays at real power while being paid only by one side, thereby making it a position of actual subservience. The commissioner as honest broker is a laughable myth, and Goodell’s early work on reforming player behavior turns out in hindsight just to be more evidence of that.
But his BountyGate suspensions make him a villain in New Orleans in one of his few acts as a law-giving commissioner. He worked hard to keep the team from San Antonio in the aftermath of the hurricane, but that was yesterday’s news. And New Orleans is back in the Super Bowl rotation for the first time 11 years because of that, and that is yesterday’s news as well.
He did act more on the team’s hubris in advertising its bounty program than its actual existence because the evidence has shown that bounties have been an essentially universal practice. And his suspensions of the players were rebuked, oddly enough by his predecessor Paul Tagliabue, because of his own hubris in assuming absolute power.
[REWIND: Tagliabue blows up Goodell's BountyGate case]
In short, Goodell comes to New Orleans as a villain because that is how it must be. Commissioners now get paid their mighty salaries to be the villain, so that the owners don’t have to be. Tom Benson, the Saints owner, nearly moved the Saints after the flood, but the town loves him. And Benson doubled down on that love when he bought the NBA Hornets from the league to keep them in Louisiana.
Could Goodell’s sorry image have been saved? Well, no. As a clear employee of management in charge of being the front man during labor issues, he becomes a villain by definition. As the one who punished the Saints (albeit with the approval of his 31 brethren), he becomes a Louisiana villain by deed as well, because Louisiana is one of the 50 states in which citizens believe that a crime done for their benefit is not a crime, but its detection and punishment is not.
After all, Sean Payton was reinstated today, and that will be held against Goodell too.
Should we feel that Goodell is being hard done by this coming fortnight? Oh, if you want to. But he’s a commissioner of a sport, and until commissioners are paid by both players and owners, they cannot be considered honest brokers. And until teams stop cheating for the perfectly sound reason that they rarely get caught, the commissioner can never look good by being the cop.
But that’s the job now – professional bad guy. If Goodell doesn’t like it, well, he can always resign. And since he’s not doing that until such time as his brain is replaced by a turnip, bad guy he is, and bad guy he shall remain.