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Replacement Refs Fiasco Proves Roger Goodell Is Worst Commissioner in Sports

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20:  U.S. Senate Majority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) (R) and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (L) participate in a news briefing after their meeting June 20, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Goodell was on the Hill to discuss bounties in professional sports.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images
James DudkoFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2012

The phrase "another fine mess" could be readily applied to the tenure of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The current replacement refs fiasco is just another high-profile calamity that serves to undermine Goodell as the league's overseer.

Every fan, coach and pundit has found themselves enraged by the auxiliary referees at least once during the first two weeks of the 2012 season. This frustration leads to the natural question: How could a situation like this be allowed to manifest itself and derail the start of the new season?

That it comes just a year after a players holdout, serves as another indictment of a commissioner's office in turmoil. What is clear is that every week that passes with the replacement officials taking charge only undermines Goodell.

One of the main characteristics of the replacement crews is how they have struggled to control some of the more unsavoury elements of the game. Skirmishes after plays and cheap shots have been a common sight during the opening weeks of the season.

That can hardly be the desired result for a commissioner who has gone to unprecedented lengths to present a clean image of the sport and its athletes. Taking a hard line in negotiations is one thing, but why would a commissioner allow the conduct of his sport to be tarnished?

Of course labor disputes are not exclusive to Goodell's tenure as commissioner. Nor are public scandals involving nefarious behaviour off the field. The problem for Goodell is that in today's Twitter-based instant reaction world, every single ugly aspect of his handling of these issues is exposed to public scrutiny.

A prime example is the Saints bounty scandal. Bringing the New Orleans Saints defense and then-coordinator Gregg Williams to task required evidence and someone to come forward. Yet should it really have taken so long?

Anyone who watched the Saints' NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings, or the divisional playoff against the Arizona Cardinals, could see what was happening. Why then did it take Goodell so long to act, or at least investigate what Williams was up to?

That may be harsh criticism, but it's nothing compared with the botched attempt to suspend some of the players involved. Goodell has somehow managed to make some of the chief culprits of one of the most heinous episodes in NFL history appear like victims.

As a UK NFL fan, it's also easy to be bemused by Goodell's handling of the league's international series. Why must the commissioner be so committed to firmly planting the NFL flag in London?

An annual regular season game in the UK is great and frankly overdue. However, Goodell's insistence on establishing one team as a regular visitor is baffling.

It completely ignores the allegiances UK supporters have developed for different teams around the league. It's like a father who still thinks something is cool a decade after the trend has gone out of fashion.

First, Goodell tried the St. Louis Rams, an idea the league had to back track from, in a quite embarrassing u-turn. Now it's the Jacksonville Jaguars, a franchise barely in existence long enough to have established credible ties with many overseas fans.

Just as important, given the current struggles of the Jaguars, how exactly is the league expecting to sell out Wembley for four straight years? It's easy to spot greed and conceit in this proposal.

By establishing himself as  such a taskmaster, Goodell has cut himself off from the concerns of many everyday fans. These are the same fans who call for signs of movement on the refs strike, yet see no action taken.

Not catering to the desires of those who support the NFL is a dangerous line to cross. Taking the hard line while the game descends into the kind of fiasco seen last Monday Night only makes Goodell appear out of touch.

The intention behind Goodell's methods might be to improve the standard and appeal of the game long-term. Yet that will only become difficult, thanks the damage his tactics are doing to the credibility of the sport present-day. 

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