Goodell’s continued power struggle

Football is finally back, more or less, and with it has come a brand new controversy involving a number of NFL players. While what they are being accused of is not as stupid as Ryan Lotche’s situation, it still is not a good look for the players or the league.

Four players, James Harrison, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Mike Neal, all are facing allegations of PED use stemming from a report by the now-defunct Al Jazeera America. The NFL decided they wanted to look into the issue, but the players seemed less than pleased to comply, maintaining that nothing had happened. Much of the report’s backing faded once the doctor at the heart of it recanted his statements.

Goodell has the final say on all things regarding player discipline. (Wikimedia Commons)

However, the league still is insisting on meeting with the players, but the players all seemed unwilling to do so. Naturally, Roger Goodell responded by threatening to suspend the players.

No, seriously he did. Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which runs through the 2020 season, Goodell has the power to act as judge, jury and executioner. Sounds unfair right? Well don’t feel too bad for the players.

This is their fault. Aaron Rodgers pointed out this week that the players have no one to blame but themselves for the amount of power Goodell has. They focused heavily on fewer padded practices and more mandatory days off to prevent injury during the 2011 negotiations. As a result, the league got to push a more stringent agenda regarding the powers of the league office and most notably Goodell.

The NFLPA is reportedly urging all of these players to take a stand against the NFL in this case to challenge Goodell’s power. However, it sounds like Peppers, Matthews and Harrison are all going to meet with the NFL in the coming days. Neal will not though as he is currently a free agent and theoretically has nothing to lose. The latest is that the NFLPA wants Neal to sue the league over the issue. There is no word on what Neal thinks of that plan yet.

Mike Neal (far right) played most recently for the Green Bay Packers, along side the also accused Clay Matthews. (Wikimedia Commons)

On the surface, it seems like the players truly have nothing to lose in meeting with the NFL if they have not taken PEDs. They would have their names cleared and avoid a possible suspension. However, this goes much deeper than that. It seems that a number of players, especially Harrison, are fed up with the way that Goodell wields his power. Taking a stand would be a point of pride in acting as if the allegations were beneath you and a challenge to the authority of Goodell.

Unfortunately, after the results of Deflategate, where Tom Brady ultimately will have to serve his four game suspension, players have seen just how far Goodell and the league office are willing to go to maintain this power struggle. It takes a lot of investment to oppose the NFL on an issue like this because of the potential length of the proceedings. Not to mention the NFL’s persistence. We all thought Deflategate was as good as dead when Brady avoided suspension last season, only to find that the league managed to slap him with it this year instead.

The underlying point is that this will continue to be an issue until after the 2020 season, when the CBA is renegotiated. The scary thing is, with how intense the league has been about maintaining absolute control in player discipline, you have to wonder how willing it might be to budge. And if that is the case, we could be looking at another NFL lockout at the start of the decade. The NFLPA is not willing to back down from this fight and continues to look to find ways to challenge this standard even before the CBA is up.

This will be the main topic of those negotiations and you can bet those arguments are going to be very heated.

Guilty until proven innocent

It is hard to objectively watch sports. There is so much emotion involved, both positive and negative, that drives fans to have slanted views.

Alex Rodriguez
Rodriguez will make his final appearance in a Yankee uniform Friday night. (Wikimedia Commons)

In the case of Alex Rodriguez, there are few people who do not have an opinion. There is a lot of love and hate surrounding him. I can’t say that I know many people who fall somewhere in between.

I will readily admit that I lean more to the side that hates him than loves him. I have my reasons, but that’s not actually what I am interested in talking about here.

A-Rod is one of the most polarizing players ever, and maybe the most in the last 25 years, for baseball. He has hit 696 home runs, won a World Series and been named AL MVP twice. He also has been caught using steroids multiple times, sued MLB and the MLBPA and lied about his use of PEDs. He is a flawed figure no doubt, but one that could really play baseball.

Tonight, this maligned, aging player will likely play in his last game as a professional. Certainly as a Yankee, but I don’t foresee too many teams being interested in him down the road. There has been a lot of talk about Rodriguez’s history and the reasons for the hate. Most of them center around his lack of cooperation when he was accused of using PEDs. He lied, he pointed the blame elsewhere, he threw his doctors and coaches under the bus. It certainly wasn’t a good look.

Rodriguez, with some help from Ryan Braun, has highlighted the development of believing athletes are guilty until proven innocent. And those are just the baseball guys. The cases of Ray Rice, Oscar Pistorious and Jerry Sandusky have contributed to this perpetuating doubt when a player is accused of breaking the rules or the law.

It has become the reality of sports. Tom Brady was immediately assumed guilty in his Deflategate scandal. Whether he was guilty or not, Brady was always in the position of needing to prove his innocence. From the second the question is raised, we all as sports fans jump to the conclusion that the player is guilty and we hold onto our doubt until they are completely cleared. And sometimes we even hold onto it after that.

We no longer will grant athletes the benefit of the doubt. We expect the athlete to complete explain himself or herself right away, otherwise face the wrath of our conviction.

And you cannot really blame the fans for this skepticism after what has happened with Rodriguez. He admitted to using PEDs in 2001 while with the Texas Rangers back in 2009. Then when the Biogenesis scandal was uncovered in 2013, Rodriguez tried to act like he had been duped. In the end, it turned out that Rodriguez was trying to cover everything up, leaving fans furious and with a feeling that they had been played.

Rodriguez tried so hard to beat the system and avoid the suspension associated with the actions he committed and that more than anything else has left sports fans jaded. It is one thing to break the rules or the law if you own up to it. It is another to break the rules or the law and then deny it ever happened and avoid the consequences. For all sports fans, that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

Now, it probably isn’t fair to blame this all on A-Rod, but the reality is that he is the pinnacle point of this idea. Fans can no longer give players the benefit of the doubt, because of how far from the truth the athlete can be.