Good for Goodell

Published: February 6, 2013

By Jim Lichtman
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“Because of the principle that a calm sea and a prosperous voyage do not make news but a shipwreck does, most circulated news is bad news.”

This piece of observational wisdom comes from writer, producer, director Norman Corwin in a story he shared in my book, What Do You Stand For?

Owing to that insight, I found this story buried in the sports section of The New York Times (Feb.1).

“I think we’re going to have to continue to see discipline escalate, particularly on repeat offenders,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said recently. “It’s not just the player, the defenseless player, that’s being protected; it’s the person doing the striking. We see in the injury rates that the defenseless player and the defensive back are having a higher injury rate.”

If players continue to violate the rules, there will be consequences, he said, adding, “Suspension gets through to them.”

Times writer Judy Battista points out that “During the season, the league suspended Ravens safety Ed Reed for his third violation of rules prohibiting helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless players. The suspension was overturned on appeal by Ted Cottrell, an N.F.L. hearing officer.

“Goodell made the remarks during his annual state-of-the-league news conference, which was heavy with questions about player safety. It came one day after players’ union leaders, at a Thursday news conference, challenged the league on several player safety issues.”

Violence in football has been getting more attention in the last couple of years. In 2010, the NFL began an investigation into allegations of deliberate attempts by Saints players to injure opposing team players for cash bonuses. Eventually, it was discovered that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had created the program and that approximately 22–27 Saints players were involved.

After all the evidence was brought to light, Goodell responded with some of the most severe penaltys in NFL history. Along with fines and suspensions to key players, Williams was suspended indefinitely. Head coach Sean Payton, who was involved in covering up the incident, was suspended for the entire 2012 season, and the Saints organization was fined $500,000, and forced to forfeit upcoming draft selections.

Vowing a culture of change in the NFL, Goodell touched on other topics at the meeting, among them:
 “Testing for human growth hormone for the 2013 season. The league and union agreed to start testing when the collective bargaining agreement was completed 18 months ago, but since then they have sparred over the details, and Congress has begun to apply pressure to get the agreement finished.

– “The league would look to set standards for the quality of playing fields, probably a reaction to the sloppy turf at FedEx Field.”

Goodell added that “his only regret from the Saints’ bounty scandal was his inability to get everyone — he singled out the union — to realize that bounties must be eliminated from the game.”

In a speech given by the NFL commissioner last November at Harvard, Goodell said he was committed to “changing the culture in a way that reduces the injury risk to the maximum possible extent — especially the risk of head injury. We want players to enjoy long and prosperous careers and healthy lives off the field. So we focus relentlessly on player health and safety, while also keeping the game fun and unpredictable.”

This brings me back to the wisdom of Norman Corwin.

“It comes down to the value of exemplars,” Corwin writes, “which can be either positive or negative, and it works like this: Because of the principle that a calm sea and a prosperous voyage do not make news but a shipwreck does, most circulated news is bad news. The badness of it is publicized, and the negative publicity attracts more of the same through imitation.

“But good can be as communicable and catching as evil,” he said, “and this is where kindness and compassion come into play.

“So long as conscionable and caring people are around, so long as they are not muted or exiled, so long as they remain alert in thought and action, there is a chance for contagions of the right stuff, whereby democracy becomes no longer a choice of lesser evils, whereby the right to vote is not betrayed by staying away from the polls, whereby the freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, and dissent are never forsaken.”

Commissioner Goodell may not be the most popular person in football today, but he’s got my respect for striving to make the game a lot safer for players and football.


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