Roger Goodell no father figure

Roger Goodell no father figure

Commish misguided in Fujita decision Sports; By Ron Borges
Friday, October 12, 2012

Judging by some of the content of Roger Goodell’s letter to Scott Fujita, he doesn’t understand the difference between being commissioner and being someone’s father.

Goodell’s letter announcing the reduction of the Cleveland linebacker’s undeserved three-game suspension for his unproven involvement in the Bountygate pay-for-pain plan to an undeserved one-game ban smacked of paternalism. That’s fine if you’re the pater familias of the Fujita clan, but Goodell is not. He heads a $9 billion-per-year enterprise, not the Fujita family, and should know the difference.

Fujita issued an angry statement after the reduction that included this snippet from Goodell’s letter: “I was surprised and disappointed by the fact that you, a former defensive captain and a passionate advocate for player safety, ignored such a program and permitted it to continue. . . . If you had spoken up, perhaps other players would have refused to participate and the consequences with which we are now dealing could have been avoided.”

In other words, Fujita is now being suspended not for paying teammates to injure opponents, but for not yelling at his boss. How can you suspend a guy for not being insubordinate?

In an ideal workplace, one should feel free to speak up if someone talks the way that New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams did then. But in reality, there are few places like that — and it’s certainly not the NFL where, as a player once put it, “An NFL linebacker is like a soda can. They empty you and throw you away.”

Fujita is well aware of that. After years as a member of the NFL Players Association’s executive committee, he has been in negotiating sessions with the owners and heard first-hand people like Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and his attitude toward them, which would be kind to call a plantation mentality.

Fujita was so irked at Goodell, he issued a statement that read in part: “I am now purportedly being suspended for failing to confront my former defensive coordinator for his inappropriate use of language. This seems like an extremely desperate attempt to punish me. I also think it sets a dangerous precedent when players can be disciplined for not challenging the behavior of their superiors. This is an absolute abuse of the power that’s been afforded to the Commissioner.”

Fujita is right, which is why he is appealing and should. No one knows what Fujita might or might not have told his teammates about Williams’ shameful speeches, calling on players to take out the knee of one man and target the head of another. Perhaps he suggested they ignore what was said; perhaps he did nothing. It doesn’t matter, because short of wrestling Williams to the ground and hollering “Take it back! Take it back!” there was little he could do about the culture of that room.

If Fujita was my son and did not challenge Williams, I would be greatly disappointed in him. But Goodell is not Fujita’s father, nor does he have the right to cost him his reputation because he’s miffed that Bountygate became public just as 3,569 former players filed 147 separate lawsuits against the league, claiming damage from concussions that might have been avoided had the league not acted like tobacco companies and said for decades: “No problem here. Just the sound of bells being rung. We all like chapel bells, don’t we?”

Goodell’s concerns are well placed, because if these lawsuits and the information already out about the league ignoring or minimizing mounting evidence connecting concussions to long-term health problems end up in court, along with a tape of those speeches, well, cha-ching!

So the timing was not good, but Goodell’s thinly veiled effort to look like the league is tough on such matters backfired, and he’s now conceded he cannot prove Fujita participated in a pay-for-pain program. So what’d he get suspended for again?

What particularly angered Fujita was Goodell backtracking by calling him out for not fighting harder for player safety, an issue Fujita has been far more concerned with than Goodell ever was, frankly.

“For me, the issue of player health and safety is personal,” Fujita’s statement read. “For the league and the Commissioner, it’s about perception and liability. The Commissioner says he is disappointed in me. The truth is, I’m disappointed in him. His positions on player health and safety since a 2009 congressional hearing on concussions have been inconsistent at best. He failed to acknowledge a link between concussions and post-career brain disease, pushed for an 18-game regular season, committed to a full season of Thursday night games, has continually challenged players’ rights to file workers compensation claims for on-the-job injuries, and he employed incompetent replacement officials for the start of the 2012 season. His actions or lack thereof are by the league’s own definition, ‘conduct detrimental.’

“My track record on the issue of player health and safety speaks for itself. And clearly, as I just listed, the Commissioner’s does too.”

Roger Goodell might feel like suspending Scott Fujita for saying that, —but, hey, he’s only doing what Goodell just suspended him for not doing.


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Filed in: Press Room • Friday, October 12th, 2012

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Scott Fujita

Scott Fujita was born in Ventura, California on April 28, 1979. He was a three-sport standout at Rio Mesa High School in Oxnard, CA before heading to the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated with Honors in Political Science and earned a Masters degree in Education.

Fujita has played in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. Read more