For 11 years, the beknighted “most powerful man in sports”, Roger Goodell, has ruled the NFL with an iron fist.
Well, maybe a tin fist, if you look at all the controversies that have populated his over decade long tenure.
When he succeeded the very competent and even-handed Paul Tagliabue on Aug. 8, 2006, Goodell set about putting his stamp on the Big 4’s most profitable league. For better and a lot worse.
His introduction of the “Personal Conduct Policy” was meant to clean up a league awash in scandal on and off the gridiron. In the process, some of the suspensions and fines that have been levied have left him open to choruses of disapproval and second-guessing.
In fact, Goodell’s NFL has handed down about 110 suspensions for conduct detrimental to the league in 11 years, when there were but 34 between 1925 and 2006, not to mention a plethora of substance abuse violations.
We’ve had a look at Goodell’s track record on discipline and found 15 suspensions — which were either too lenient or too harsh — that don’t pass the sniff test.
15. Ezekiel Elliott – Six Games For Violating Personal Conduct Policy
We might as well start with one of the most recent, and controversial, rulings by Goodell and senior VP of investigations Lisa Friel. The six-game suspension of one of the league brightest young stars, who hasn’t been convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend Tiffany Thompson, is just ludicrous. Further to that, the NFL director of investigations, Kia Wright Roberts, produced a memo that points out many inconsistencies and credibility concerns after she interviewed Elliott’s accuser. Even with this in hand, Friel recommended that the Dallas Cowboys’ running back be suspended for six games at a meeting that Roberts didn’t attend. What has unfolded has further cast aspersions on Goodell’s ham-handed approach to Elliott’s case and in due course an appeal has been filed by the players union, as well as a restraining order in Texas seeking to set aside any decision by arbitrator Harold Henderson. Elliott’s appeal was finalized Thursday and if it is unsuccessful, there is a plan to fight the NFL in federal court on the grounds the NFL made multiple CBA violations in the handling of this case.
14. Cedric Benson – Zero Games For Violating Personal Conduct Policy (Multiple Times)
For a few years earlier this decade, Cedric Benson was a pretty good running back, racking up three straight seasons of 1,000 or more yards on the ground. However, his list of arrests and legal troubles makes him a solid gold member of the NFL’s Hall of Shame. In June 2010, after a history of run-ins with the law regarding alcohol and allegedly operating boats and vehicles under the influence of alcohol, Benson was arrested for allegedly punching a bartender in the face. Where there’s smoke, there is usually fire and even though he denied committing the crime and was never convicted, the league announced he wouldn’t be suspended. Considering some of the other farcical suspensions handed down to NFL stars, the lack of action concerning Benson’s frequent arrests just stinks. Adding further scorn to Goodell’s inaction, Benson was supposed to be suspended three games for assaulting a family member in 2011, but it was reduced to just one game.
13. Ndamukong Suh, Vontaze Burfict and Albert Haynesworth – Not Suspended Nearly Enough
If the league truly cared about player safety, these three rogues should have been done with football long ago. Suh, Burfict and Haynesworth are all dirty players who give the game a bad name. Suh and Haynesworth are unrepentant stompers who have injured opposing players with well-placed cleats. Early in Goodell’s tenure, the commish could have upped his cred by levying a lifetime suspension on Haynesworth, who viciously attacked helmet-less Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode in a game on Oct. 1, 2006. It was alleged Haynesworth tore off his bucket and then stomped him, which there was evidence of. Suh is cut from the same cloth, having stomped not one, but two opponents, including Aaron Rodgers. He got one measly game (later reduced to a fine) for the infraction against Rodgers. Burfict, who is now suspended three games for repeat violations of player safety rules, is an unrepentant ankle and headhunter. We think that if Goodell et al were truly concerned for player safety, each of these guys would have been suspended for life.
When looking at how soft the NFL has gone after dirty players like Suh and Burfict, the suspensions for the New Orleans Saints players involved in “BountyGate” between 2009-11 were way over the top and unwarranted. Yes, GM Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton and DC Gregg Williams deserved the suspensions and censure they got, but that’s where it should have ended. But, no, Goodell had to make the mountain out of the mole hill and start suspending random players, without a shred of evidence they did anything wrong. These idiotic suspensions after the investigation concluded in 2012 included a whole season to LB Jonathan Vilma, eight games to DE Anthony Hargrove, four games to DE Will Smith and three games to LB Scott Fujita. But, just desserts were served — even after Goodell re-issued the suspensions of the players after an appeal — when former commissioner Tagliabue stepped in and laid the blame on the scandal on the coaching staff and not the players, setting aside the suspensions in the process.
11. Plaxico Burress – Four Games For Shooting Himself In The Leg
Gun violence is a hot button topic in North America. That is why the NFL needs to adopt a zero tolerance policy for players who flout what laws are in place and do dangerous, illegal, and in Plaxico Burress’ case, dumb things with firearms. In November, 2008, the then New York Giants wide receiver accidentally shot himself in the leg at a night club in Manhattan with a Glock pistol that he didn’t have a permit to carry in the state of New York. In the Empire State, the charges of reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon usually carries a minimum sentence of three and a half years. Burress got two years in the slammer on a plea deal and served 20 months. The NFL’s action in this case? Well, Burress got a four-game suspension from the team, but got to keep his $1 million signing bonus. The NFL whiffed on this one, big time, by not issuing a much longer suspension.
10. Wes Welker – Four Games For Violating Substance Abuse Policy
Basically, Welker got the same suspension as Burress (above) for not shooting himself in the leg. Welker, who had no previous run-ins with the substance abuse policy and was a fairly model NFL citizen, purportedly took banned substance Adderall while attending the Kentucky Derby in 2014. A positive test later confirmed it and he got a four-game suspension to be served during the upcoming season. Now, a player can take Adderall if it is approved by the league, but in Welker’s case, and to which he vehemently denied knowingly taking it, there is a violation. Welker, who protested his innocence surrounding the use of any drugs, questioned the quality of the sample taken from him and openly wondered whether the drug was slipped in a drink he had at the Derby. Suspensions for contravening the NFL’s substance abuse policy are needed, however, by suspending a non-repeat offender for four games, while levying the same to a guy who shoots himself in the leg for the same number of games, is just plain preposterous.
9. Aaron Berry – Three Games For Pointing A Gun At Three People
Currently in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, former NFL cornerback Aaron Berry, should he go back to the big league, would still have to serve a lenient three-game suspension. Cut by the Cleveland Browns in 2014, Berry was suspended by the league in 2012 after not one, but two arrests. His first, in June 2012, was for a DUI. His second was for a bizarre incident in Harrisburg, PA that involved him pointing a gun at three people. Basically, some people were walking in a night club parking lot when a car Berry was in nearly backed into them. The people yelled to get the driver’s attention, to which it stopped, a window rolled down and a Glock with a laser pointer, handled by Berry, was pointed in the walkers’ direction. A police car nearby was flagged down and it gave chase, catching the vehicle a block away. After a positive ID of the Glock and the owner (Berry), he was arrested. The NFL and Goodell, in their infinite wisdom, suspended him all of three games for two separate and severe violations of the personal conduct policy.
8. Santonio Holmes – Four Games For Using Pot
In eight states, where the NFL has seven football teams, it is legal to both possess and use marijuana for medical and recreational use. And, as has been widely reported and investigated, pot use is prevalent by college football players. For those reasons, the NFL’s substance abuse policy needs to be updated and may need to eliminate marijuana from the list all together. We mean, what’s to stop a player from the 49ers, Rams, Chargers or Raiders, who perform in the state of California where it’s legal, to smoke a little weed? It’s been proven that pot is not really a performance enhancing drug (quite the opposite). So, in 2010, Super Bowl XLIII MVP wide receiver Santonio Holmes was suspended four games after a drug test revealed THC in his sample. That’s one more game than Aaron Berry got for a DUI and assault charges stemming from pointing a pistol at people who were in the simple act of walking. Insanity, we say.
7. Terrelle Pryor – Five Games For Stuff He Did In College
This much we know. In 2010, when he was with the Ohio State Buckeyes, Terrelle Pryor and some of his teammates were involved in the well-documented “tattoos for trophies” scandal that cost head coach Jim Tressel his job and ended in suspensions for Pryor and his cohorts. Pryor also allegedly received improper benefits, including sports cars. All of these actions were in violations of NCAA rule. That’s right, NCAA rules, not NFL rules. Therefore, Goodell and the league way overstepped their bounds when they suspended him for the first five games of his NFL career with the Oakland Raiders in 2011. Put it this way, if the NFL feels it needs to suspend players for things they did in college, the league ought to be paying them while they are playing there, too.
6. Richie Incognito – “Indefinitely” For Bullying Jonathan Martin
He may be repentant now and more of a model NFL citizen, but Buffalo Bills offensive guard and three-time Pro Bowler Richie Incognito doesn’t fool anyone. A hated man for being one of the dirtiest players in the league, Incognito was involved in the protracted hazing and bullying of several former Miami Dolphins teammates, principal of who was Jonathan Martin. Basically, team ringleader and veteran Incognito harrassed, threatened and bullied Martin for over year, to the point he Martin left the team for “emotional” reasons. In an investigation into the matter, it was revealed that Incognito, among many accusations, sent Martin threathening and highly graphic voice mails that called him unprintable names and included violence to Martin’s mother and sister and a death threat. When it broke, Incognito was suspended indefinitely, which to the NFL means sorta indefinitely, as Incognito started playing again after missing a season and a half. He should have been banned for life, given his general demeanor on and off the field.
5. Ray Rice – Indefinitely, But Only After The NFL Was Embarrassed
Ray Rice, to say the least, is persona non grata around the NFL. Once a great running back with the Baltimore Ravens who won a Super Bowl and was a two-time All-Pro, Rice was involved in one of the worst domestic violence cases in league history. In early 2014, Rice and fiancee Janay were at a casino in Atlantic City and drinking heavily. Later they were in an elevator and arguing, when Rice lashed out with his fists, knocking Janay out. A video of the incident showed him doing the evil deed, then dragging her like luggage out of the elevator. When Goodell and the league heard of it, they suspended him just two games, but only after a cursory investigation where they didn’t request video from hotel security. However, the league did eventually receive the video, but didn’t get into action until it was publicly released by TMZ. Therefore, they did know what went down, but only suspended Rice indefinitely when they were very publicly shamed into it.
4. Ben Roethlisberger – Four Games For Alleged Sexual Assault
The crux of the argument here doesn’t involve the fact whether Ben Roethlisberger may or may not have sexually assaulted a woman in 2010 at a night club. Any sexual assault on a woman by a NFL player must be treated with urgency and respect for the victim, while any suspension handed down severe. In Big Ben’s case, though, Roger Goodell figured he could suck and blow at the same time. In the criminal case against superstar Roethlisberger, no charges were brought because the DA in the case couldn’t prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. But, Goodell still suspended the Steelers’ quarterback for six games for contravening the personal conduct policy. Yet, Goodell then thought it wise to reduce the suspension to just four games. Therefore, Goodell believed Roethlisberger did something wrong to an innocent woman — whether or not it actually happened — but still chose to be lenient. Which leads us to believe he cares more about TV ratings (which may have plummeted without Big Ben for two extra weeks) than women.
3. SpyGate – Bill Belichick Gets Zero Games For Being Caught Cheating
Two of our last three on this list involve the Patriots, sorry for the spoiler alert. And for the purposes of the argument here, we are going to throw a lot of shade on the old axiom “if ya ain’t cheatin’, ya ain’t tryin’.” In 2007, Bill Belichick and the Patriots were caught, red-handed, videotaping New York Jets coaches’ signals during an early season game. Videotaping opposing coaches during a game isn’t illegal, but must be done from designated areas. The sidelines, apparently, aren’t one of them. Goodell and the NFL deemed the Pats cheating ways to be in violation of league rules, stating that the act represented a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid long-standing rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field. For his sins, Belichick was fined $500,000, the team was fined $250,000 and the Pats lost their first round pick in 2008. Adding credence to Belichick’s devious ways, it has been alleged that Belichick was doing this sort of thing for years. Which is precisely why Goodell should have suspended the hoodied one at least a year and maybe more for being a consistent cheater.
2. Greg Hardy – Reduced Suspension For Nearly Killing His Girlfriend
Greg Hardy is no longer employed in the NFL, even though he’s still just 29 and probably could play. We say, however, that his NFL unemployment is just reward. In 2014, Hardy allegedly beat the living tar out of then girlfriend Nicole Holder. Pictures circulated on the internet showed significant bruises and relayed the testimony of Holder, who said that he strangled her (evidence in photos) and threatened to kill her. Initially, a judge found him guilty of assault and communicating threats, for which he was sentenced to 18 months probation. But, Hardy appealed and requested a jury trial, but Holder failed to appear to testify (probably because she was too traumatized). Once the trial was over, Hardy was deactivated by the Carolina Panthers and in 2015 he was suspended 10 games by the NFL after their investigation. However, that suspension was reduced to just four games by an arbitrator. Which again begs the question: “Does the NFL really care about violence against women?”
We told you that Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots would re-surface here. Known for sideline shenanigans in the “SpyGate” scandal, Belichick and Brady got caught up in another cheating scandal when it was alleged that the Pats deliberately under-inflated balls to give them an advantage in the 2014 season AFC Championship game against Indianapolis, which they won. For their crimes, Brady was suspended four games, the team was fined $1 million and lost two draft picks. Brady, calling the allegations “ludicrous” appealed to a federal court and had his four-game suspension vacated by a federal judge, but it was then reinstated by a U.S. Circuit Court appellate judge and he had to sit out the first four games of the 2016 season. Prior to all this, though, Goodell was actually the arbitrator in an internal appeal, upholding his own ruling that Brady be suspended. So, how does the guy handing out the suspensions — with barely a shred of evidence the Pats actually deflated the footballs — get to be judge, jury and executioner? Goodell, as we have stated numerous times in this article, is out of his depth when it comes to NFL crime and punishment.