How Much Power Should a Sports Commissioner Have?

NEW YORK - JULY 27:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions from the media after reinstating Michael Vick on a conditional basis on July 27, 2009 at the InterContinental Hotel in New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mark HauserCorrespondent IIAugust 2, 2009

When our founding fathers formed this country they were smart enough to realize that having one person, usually a king at that time, decide the fate of the whole country and every individual in it, is not a good idea.  One person could easily be wrong in his or her viewpoint and/or have a very unusual viewpoint that practically no one agrees with.  This hardly seems fair and you could end up with disastrous results. 

The most extreme example of course is Adolf Hitler, a dictator whose Nazi party never had more than 35% of the votes, yet his sick viewpoints resulted in somewhere between 55 and 70 million deaths in World War II.  Had there been some checks and balances in Germany like there is in a democratic country, perhaps WWII could have been avoided.

Now I realize that sports is not that life and death, but very important rulings that affect big businesses (i.e., sports leagues) and the individuals in them are made by commissioners in sports and the players have little recourse at times.  Take Roger Goodell’s five game suspension of Michael Vick for the start of the 2009 NFL season—most people (in and out the media) think that Vick has paid his to dept society via his two-year jail sentence and that his suspension is overkill. 

So far, Goodell has demonstrated that he is a thoughtful and intelligent commissioner, but that doesn’t mean that he is always right.  Putting aside for now whether Goodell is right in this instance, the question is:  Should only one person determine a player’s fate in a sports league?

In criminal law, the defendant always has the option of having his fate determined by a jury consisting of 12 people.  And multiple judges (between three and 15) rule on appeals.  Why can’t there being a committee, led by the commissioner, to determine a player’s fate and other league rulings? 

I understand that practicability is a consideration, but any time only one person is making a ruling, the likelihood of an unfair ruling increases.  I am not sure what the ideal structure should be for the sports leagues, but when a commissioner has king-like-powers for certain important rulings, I think we all feel a little uncomfortable with this.

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