The Disciplinarian

More than a few folks have written – and sports talk radio is all over this idea – that Roger Goodell has to be fired in the wake of the goat rodeo involving Ray Rice and his fiancée/wife. I do not think that is necessary or justified and I believe that those who are calling for his dismissal are missing the point about what a Commissioner for a major sport is supposed to do. The problem is history.

The first sports Comish in the US was Kennesaw Mountain Landis; he got the job to be the capo di tutti capi in MLB after the Black Sox scandal in 1919. He was supposed to rule with an iron fist and make sure everyone in the game toed the line. Most people think he did that; I happen to think that Landis was a lot more bluster than tough guy but I am probably in the minority there. People have come to think that Job Duty #1 for a sports commissioner is to be a disciplinarian. Not so…

The job of the commissioner is to grow the league and the measures of league growth are things like revenue, attendance, public awareness, TV ratings etc. All of those are intertwined but when you take them as a package and add to them the responsibility to deal constructively with the players’ union, you have the modern set of responsibilities for a league commissioner. Unfortunately, they also seem to carry the burden of history with them and they are also expected to be “The Disciplinarian”. That role does not mesh well with “grow the league” and “deal constructively with the union”.

Flip this issue on its head for a moment as a gedanken experiment. Imagine that Roger Goodell was not “The Disciplinarian” and we gave that job to DeMaurice Smith with the same level of authority and acceptance bestowed on Roger Goodell. Regardless of Smith’s good will and positive intentions, his main job – to represent the players on labor issues – would be in conflict with this new role as “The Disciplinarian”. My point is that neither Goodell nor Smith has a position that allows them to blend in any meaningful way their “main job” with the job of disciplinarian.

I think the best solution to the angst and anger that exists at the moment over the Ray Rice matter is to look for ways to evolve the system to a point where “The Disciplinarian” is a job separate and distinct from the NFL front office and from the NFLPA. Like the US, these folks need a “third branch of governance”.

There will be a bazillion details in the creation of the position of “The Disciplinarian” and each of them will represent a hurdle to be crossed. I will not even begin to try to flesh out all those details here except for the sine qua non in this idea:

    “The Disciplinarian” and whatever staff he/she needs will cost money. Everyone in every position is beholden to whoever pays his/her salary. Therefore, the costs for “The Disciplinarian” and his/her staff need to be borne by the NFL and the NFLPA in equal measure.

If there were indeed a person who was “The Disciplinarian”, no one would be thinking that Roger Goodell should be fired about now because he is doing his main job (grow the league) quite well.

According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, Johnny Manziel – through his company, JMan2 Enterprises LLC – has applied for trademark rights to a bunch of names including:

    Johnny Football
    Johnny Cleveland

Why stop there?

    The first time he leads a team to a last second win on a TD pass, he could call himself “Johnny on the Spot”.

    When he gets in the news for partying hard in Vegas he could call himself “Johnny Be Bad”.

    If he wins a game on a quarterback sneak, he could be “John Doe”.

    If he finishes second in the MVP voting, he could claim to be “John Adams”.

    If he ended all his press conferences by saying, “I have to go to the john,” he could try to trademark that phrase too.

The name on Manziel’s list – not my frivolous list – that I find most interesting is “JMan”. I really wonder if in the sporting cosmos of the Cleveland area Johnny Manziel’s name would be associated with “JMan”. After all, there is this other guy playing in Cleveland who might also be their JMan – LeBron James…

    [Aside: I wonder if Don Imus ever tried to trademark the name “I-Man”?]

Manziel’s publicity grabs speak to the possibility of an ego run amok. That is not exactly a newsworthy item in the world of sports as evidenced by this terse – yet accurate – summation by Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot of another sporting situation involving ego:

“Idle thought: Tiger Woods fired his swing coach because the golfer couldn’t fire himself.”

Finally, in the wake of the furor over the video tape of Ray Rice in that elevator, here is an item from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald on the blessing of a missing video tape:

“ESPN apologized for airing a report that discussed the locker room showering habits of openly gay NFL player Michael Sam. On the bright side, the report did not include video.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………