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SBD/January 28, 2013/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
Sixty-one percent of NFL players recently surveyed said that they "disapproved of the job" NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has done overall, with "most focusing on the increased fines of players for dangerous hits on defenseless receivers and quarterbacks and the perception of the commissioner's investigation into the bounty matter," according to a sports section cover story by Mike Garafolo of USA TODAY. The poll of 300 players on active rosters or practice squads was "conducted from Dec. 19 to Jan. 12, with a margin of error of plus-minus 5%." Goodell's 39% approval rating came from "a number of respondents noting his role in making the game the most popular of U.S. sports, plus those who realize it's a thankless job, no matter who is in charge." Cardinals K Jay Feely said, "When you create a system where you're both the judge and the jury and you preside over it in that manner, it seems inherently unfair." Garafolo notes Goodell has "taken steps toward dispersing power." He appointed former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to "hear the second round of appeals in the bounty case." When Ravens S Ed Reed was suspended for a hit to a defenseless receiver in November, it was NFL VP/Football Operations Merton Hanks -- as "agreed upon in the CBA -- that decided the punishment." Cowboys QB Tony Romo said, "There are always going to be positives and negatives that go with it, but I know that Roger in his heart has the best interests of the league. ... If you're appeasing everybody, you might not be doing the job well." However, Chiefs DT Shaun Smith said that Goodell is "overstepping his bounds." He said, "I miss Paul Tagliabue. The league has changed." Seahawks FB Michael Robinson said that Goodell should "stop trying to turn the game into glorified two-hand touch." Robinson: "You talk about helmet-to-helmet collisions. I get about 18 to 25 a game; you're not going to be able to stop that" (USA TODAY, 1/28).
LONELY AT THE TOP: In DC, Rick Maese profiled Goodell and wrote as Goodell heads to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII, he finds the league "in a remarkable situation: Its condition depends almost entirely on the view of the observer." Goodell leads at a time when the game "can be described as both thriving and vulnerable." While professional football "pulls in television ratings and revenue that are the envy of other leagues, Goodell is constantly cleaning up messes and deflecting endless controversies, at least one of which threatens the sport’s future." The NFL emerged from its player lockout in '11 with "a deal that guaranteed 10 years of labor peace, only to find an obstacle course of peril: lawsuits from nearly 4,000 former players who say they suffered concussions, the suicide of retired linebacker Junior Seau, a murder-suicide committed by a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, waning participation numbers in youth leagues, an escalating debate about the health and safety of players, the lockout of NFL game officials and an alleged bounty system in New Orleans." In Goodell’s early years as commissioner, he was "cast as a no-nonsense sheriff, policing outlaws" such as Eagles QB Michael Vick and Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger. Publicly, he was "mostly milquetoast, a handsome face who shook the hands of draft picks and kept the NFL on the tracks." But relations with players "began to strain during the bitter contract negotiations of the 2011 lockout and worsened as the Saints bounty scandal bubbled to the surface and players began to grouse about hefty fines for illegal hits." Goodell’s constituents "are many, though, and while he likes to say he’s not interested in popularity contests, he does have many parties to appease: owners, players, coaches, sponsors, TV partners and fans, among others." It can be "trying, a weight that Goodell shoulders mostly alone" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/26).
STRIKING A BALANCE: In L.A., Sam Farmer wrote the NFL is "an incredibly robust enterprise, one that generates" $9B a year in revenues. It "probably would survive the potentially huge damages those class-action lawsuits could bring." But say the league "did have to pay a staggering amount in damages." Would high schools "face prohibitive insurance premiums to keep football programs going? What about Pop Warner football?" Those NFL lawsuits have a "devastating ripple effect on football as we now know it." The league already has made "several rules changes to protect players, and more are in the offing, angering purists who say the sport has already been tweaked and twisted too much." The health and safety of players is "but one of many challenges the league is facing." Eighteen months after their labor fight was resolved, a "palpable tension remains" between the NFL and NFLPA. The sides have yet to "agree on how to test for illicit use of human growth hormone, even though there are strong suspicions some players are using it." More hurdles "clutter the NFL's path," including the Bountygate scandal and the "embarrassment of replacement officials who faltered in place of the locked-out regulars" (L.A. TIMES, 1/27).
LEAVING HIS MARK: USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell writes effective commissioners "must bridge the gaps between the owners who are their bosses and constituents such as the players who are essential to the game and business." While Goodell has been "proactive in emphasizing player safety and long-term health, more can be done." The NFL and the union have committed $300M toward "research into brain disease, and the league has improved its 88 Plan to support retirees suffering from dementia or similar conditions." Yet with "so many hard-luck cases involving the health of former players -- amid massive litigation initiated by former players -- Goodell is positioned to be even more of a leader on this front." How he works to "confront such issues could become his ultimate legacy" (USA TODAY, 1/28).
President Obama has become the latest to speak out against violence in football, saying in an interview with THE NEW REPUBLIC, "I'm a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I'd have to think long and hard before I let him play football." Obama said, "Those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence. In some cases, that may make it a little bit less exciting, but it will be a whole lot better for the players, and those of us who are fans maybe won't have to examine our consciences quite as much." He added he tends to be "more worried about college players than NFL players in the sense that the NFL players have a union, they're grown men, they can make some of these decisions on their own, and most of them are well-compensated for the violence they do to their bodies." Obama: "You read some of these stories about college players who undergo some of these same problems with concussions and so forth and then have nothing to fall back on. That's something that I'd like to see the NCAA think about" (THE NEW REPUBLIC, 2/11 issue). Syndicated columnist George Will said, "The most important letters in football are not ‘NFL.’ They’re now ‘CTE.’” Will said Obama's comments are "going to be a rebellion, like the president is speaking as a parent, from the bottom up that is going to say, ‘This game is just not suited to the human body.’” NPR’s Steve Inskeep said football can be safer if the “rules change and if there is this kind of upswell” Will was referring to. However, he added there is something “deeply American about the violence of this sport” (“This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” ABC, 1/27).
MASSIVE CHANGES COMING? ESPN's Mike Golic said of massive changes coming to football, "I don’t buy it, I just don’t think it’s going to happen. Maybe I’m hard-headed about it, maybe I’m naïve about it that major changes are going to happen, but I don’t think they are. What I would like to see happen is starting from the little league on up is better technique teaching where they especially learn to tackle.” But ESPN’s Mike Greenberg said, “I do think major changes are on the way in the NFL. I do believe that on into the future you're going see a game of football that will be unlike anything you would recognize today.” Golic said of additional safety elements being put in the game, “The only way you're going to legislate something like that is to take the helmets off the players or put leather helmets back on the players. The game will go away first before they go to that because less interest will come about with fans” ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 1/28). ESPN's Adam Schefter said, “The one issue that threatens the long-term prosperity of this game is the health of its players and whether people will participate in the sport. When you get a President coming out and saying he would balk at letting his sons play, that magnifies the issue and shines a spotlight squarely on it” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 1/28). In Charlotte, Scott Fowler wrote, “I love football. And it scares me. And like Obama, I've never had to make this decision, but I would come down about where he does on it, in the ‘think long and hard’ area. I honestly don't know if I'd say yes or no” (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 1/27). In N.Y., Gary Myers writes as more is learned about the connection between head injuries sustained in football and the effect it has on the quality of life after football, there could be a “dramatic increase in the number of kids playing baseball” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/28).
FINISH LINE IN SIGHT? Ravens S Bernard Pollard said of the NFL's long-term future, “Thirty years from now, I don’t think it will be in existence." Pollard: "With the direction things are going -- where they (NFL rule makers) want to lighten up, and they’re throwing flags and everything else -- there’s going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up.” He added, “Guys are getting fined, and they’re talking about, ‘Let’s take away the strike zone’ and ‘Take the pads off’ or 'take the helmets off.' It’s going to be a thing where fans aren’t going to want to watch it anymore.” Pollard: “The league is trying to move in the right direction (with player safety), but at the same time, (coaches) want bigger, stronger and faster year in and year out. And that means you’re going to keep getting big hits and concussions and blown-out knees. The only thing I’m waiting for ... is a guy dying on the field. We’ve had everything else happen there except for a death.” He continued, “Like I said, I hope I’m wrong, but I just believe one day there’s going to be a death that takes place on the field because of the direction we’re going” (CBSSPORTS.com, 1/25).
Gary Bettman’s tenure as NHL Commissioner "has brought some important positive changes to the league,” but his legacy will be "forever coloured by the rancour and animosity of three lockouts,” according to Eric Duhatschek of the GLOBE & MAIL. In spite of salary growth, "many players regard him as a villain.” Ducks RW Teemu Selanne, who has been in the league for Bettman's entire tenure said, “The hockey has grown a lot in every which way so I think for the most part, he has been very successful -- and obviously, we all appreciate that. We -- the players -- are very lucky to have the lifestyle that we have. But if you ask any player, nobody’s happy that he also had three work stoppages. Obviously, that’s the only minus we are looking at from his part.” Duhatschek wrote people “struggle to separate the personal from the professional” when assessing Bettman's legacy. Some will “always consider him to be an outsider, never having been steeped in hockey culture.” Former Sabres Managing Partner & Minority Owner Larry Quinn said, “On Gary overall, if you looked at every category and separated yourself from the personalities and said, ‘has this business grown over his tenure?’ There’s no question it has." Duhatschek notes following Bettman’s first full season on the job in '93-94, NHL revenues “amounted to $732-million and annual player salaries averaged $558,000.” Revenues by the end of last season had “nearly quintupled to $3.3-billion, and players now earn an average $2.55-million.” Many NHL GMs “expect Bettman to work until his 65th birthday, on June 12, 2017.” He “could announce his decision to retire then, but stay on for the 100th anniversary season” in ’17-18. Meanwhile, with the CBA in place until at least ‘20, the question becomes whether he can grow the NHL "to 32 teams" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/26).
BACK IN THE SWING OF THINGS: The CBC’s Glenn Healy said of the league’s opening week, “Is it fool’s gold to look at some of these league numbers and say, ‘Wow, the league is doing great. Look at the television numbers, eight regions had unbelievable opening weeks.’” Healy: "They’re offering great discounts, you’re giving away Center Ice at a discounted rate.” But The CBC’s Kevin Weekes said NHL COO John Collins “has done a great job growing it in spite of this lockout,” and the NHL “will do a much better job growing revenues with an entire year and also, being in a new fiscal year” (“HNIC,” CBC, 1/26).
NBC’s Tony Dungy discussed the NFL's Rooney Rule and said, “There’s a problem with the system. ... It’s not just minority coaches, it’s the way the system is run." No minority coaches were hired to fill the eight head coaching vacanies this year, and Dungy said, “We can’t blame it on not having candidates. We can’t blame it on interviews. Owners want to make a splash. They want a big name, they’re looking for big names and they’ve got to go deeper than that, they’ve got to investigate.” He added owners "have to take their time” before hiring a new coach. Dungy: "They’re in such a hurry to make that splash they’re not really investigating” (“NFL Pro Bowl,” NBC, 1/27). SI.com's Peter King writes, "What's the hurry? Why the race? Pittsburgh had a deliberate process that resulted in the hiring of Mike Tomlin on Jan. 22, 2007, the day after the two conference title games. ... Teams seem to be sprinting to get a coach named instead of making sure they've interviewed a wide spectrum of candidates" (SI.com, 1/28).
NEGLECTED CLASSIC: With the third World Baseball Classic taking place this spring, in Philadelphia, Bob Brookover wrote, "We certainly love baseball more than soccer as a spectator sport, but a lot more people get excited about the World Cup than they do the WBC.” The reason is that “we know the game of baseball so well." Brookover: "We know when the best players aren't involved. We know we don't want to watch Team USA play Italy. We know it's not really the best possible baseball when starting pitchers are on a pitch count” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 1/27). In Toronto, Richard Griffin wrote MLB players “should embrace the Classic, because this is as good as it will get for baseball.” The USA treats the WBC “quite poorly while everywhere else in the baseball world has greeted it with enthusiasm.” That “needs to change” (TORONTO STAR, 1/27).
TWO-HANDED SLAM DUNK: ESPN’s Bill Simmons said the NBA has "never had a rivalry" like Heat F LeBron James and Thunder F Kevin Durant, and the two can “carry the league.” Simmons: “They’re doing things statistically we've never seen and there's nobody like them.” ESPN’s Jalen Rose said if James and Durant “continue to meet each other” in the NBA Finals, “that’s going to be something special for the league.” ESPN’s Magic Johnson said, “These two guys have to guard each other so I think that's going to be special in itself.” He added, “They're going to carry this league, and they have a hell of a supporting cast” (“NBA Countdown,” ABC, 1/27).