Fred Said It: The fighter in Goodell

Fred said it

The beginning of the 2014 NFL season reminds me of a lot of the early rounds of the Mike Tyson/Buster Douglas heavyweight championship fight. Tokyo, Japan. Feb. 11, 1990. For purposes of theatrical illustration, let's have NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell play the role of "Iron Mike." The undefeated, undisputed, unquestioned heavyweight champion of the world. Fresh off knocking out his previous opponent, Carl "The Truth" Williams in 93 seconds flat.

Like Tyson, Commissioner Goodell is used to winning, often and big. He took on the NFLPA in collective bargaining negotiations. TKO for the owners, who - negotiating the 2011 CBA - went from giving the players well over 50 percent of shared revenues down to around 40 percent. That's a nice chunk of change in a $9 billion business on a 10-year deal. The Commissioner took on the New Orleans Saints in the bounty scandal. Another TKO as the team, its GM, its coach, several assistant coaches, and the team's fans got rope-a-doped in 2012. There are plenty of other victories on the Commissioner's resume, all of them convincing no-doubters, all executed according to plan.

But, as Tyson once said - and, I paraphrase here, "Everybody has a plan until they get hit in the mouth." Tyson found that out when Buster Douglas knocked him out that February night in Tokyo in the 10th round. The 42-1 underdog emerged the victor in that battle. Tyson, though dangerous still, was no longer viewed as invincible.

Could it be that Commissioner Goodell has been taken to the canvas by a Ray Rice knockout blow to his future wife in that casino elevator, and the way the league and the Baltimore Ravens have clumsily mishandled the matter? Or, that of convicted domestic abuser and STILL active player Greg Hardy? Or that of Minnesota's STILL ACTIVE running back Adrian Peterson, indicted on charges of injuring his 4-year-old child while meting out "discipline" with a tree switch? Time will tell the entire story, but the Commissioner and his office have certainly both been rocked.

A good summation of where the story stands, and what may need to be done, is offered in an op-ed piece at authored by Martha Pease, CEO of DemandWerks, a company specializing in growth strategies for companies. Ms. Pease points out the fact that Roger Goodell is running a major Fortune 500 company, of sorts, but it doesn't operate with the same standards and practices. She writes, in part:

"What CEOs do in those (Fortune 500) companies is to insist up front on high standards of behavior - but, importantly, they also set up credible, independent individuals or committees to investigate and to mete out punishment. Their intention is to keep the administration of corporate justice as fair and as consistent as possible, trying to protect the integrity of the company's reputation while also trying to avoid favoritism or cronyism in the way its employees are treated. CEOs purposely stay out of the middle of individual disputes.

But the NFL has structured Goodell's job entirely differently. He has supreme, sweeping power over the organization, players and their behavior. He in effect is appointed the judge and the jury in individual cases, even as he keeps one eye over his shoulder at the owners. For some months now, he has been seen as too harsh, and now he is being seen as too lenient, especially in the way he has twisted and squirmed over the Rice case.

Goodell and the owners should figure out how to restructure the commissioner's job - or soon, he may lose it, and the league's brand will be even more tarnished."

My good friend, co-anchor at CNN, and the greatest boxing analyst I've ever known was the late, great Nick Charles, who covered Tyson/Douglas. He once said "Styles make fights." Perhaps it's time for the Commissioner to stop trying to bludgeon the opponent, box a little smarter, and listen to his corner before "Douglas" happens to HIM.

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