The world of professional football is in an uproar. In case you missed it, the labor dispute between the league’s referees and its team owners turned into an outright debacle Monday night in a blown call that handed the Seattle Seahawks a win over the Green Bay Packers and singlehandedly illustrated the frustration that has been brewing the last few Sundays. I’ll leave it to the experts to describe what happened—pick your play-by-play or satirical explainer—in what’s been called “one of the all-time epic finishes in NFL history.”
In the aftermath, all eyes have been on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. A Wisconsin state senator tweeted Goodell’s phone number. Fans are enraged and calling for his head (seriously). And sports pundits everywhere were urging Goodell to be decisive following the embarrassing call Monday night.
Some were asking for an apology. Others wanted an immediate end to the dispute. And some even suggested Goodell should actually try to overturn the result of the game. “The time is now for Goodell to right two wrongs, to show true power and strength and leadership, and to take unprecedented action,” wrote sports columnist John Hoover at the Tulsa World. “Goodell needs to overturn Monday night’s absurdity and declare the Packers the winner. No debate. No appeal. No review, no lawsuit, no injunction, no arbitration.”
That didn’t happen. The NFL announced Tuesday in a statement that it would uphold the Seahawks’ win. But one thing is clear: The key thing Goodell needs to do as NFL commissioner is whatever serves the good of the game.
As the head of the NFL, Goodell has the job of upholding the integrity of professional football. First on his agenda should be protecting the faith of the fans in the quality of the game, the investments of team owners in their enterprises, and the safety of the players on the field (to the extent that’s possible in a game that involves 300-pound men crashing into each other for 60 minutes).
All three of these are suffering by the standoff between the refs’ union and the teams’ owners. Players admit they’re pushing the envelope. Fans are beyond frustrated. And while they may be too focused on saving a few bucks to realize it, the effect of the lockout could very well be to damage future revenues of the teams.
I wrote last week that the refs would need to accept that they can’t expect to have cushy benefits without more accountability. But now it’s time that the team owners—and Goodell—realize that the drawn-out labor dispute is having a detrimental effect on the game. Goodell should admit the replacement referees aren’t working out as hoped and outline exactly how he plans to end the dispute.
Goodell may be in a tricky spot: The team owners are the ones locking out the refs—not him—and the team owners are even his own employers. But as Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel writes, “at some point, Goodell has to lead his bosses.” As the one leading the league, it’s his job to put the good of the game first.
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