By Paul Newberry
The Associated Press
After Donald Sterling’s racist ramblings were exposed to the world, the NBA moved quickly to banish him from the league.
Sure, the forced sale of the Los Angeles Clippers made Sterling even richer, but it sent a clear signal that such behavior would not be tolerated, even from the guys with the biggest checkbooks.
Then there’s the NFL, which seems content to let its bad boy owners slide with nothing more than a slap on the wrist, no matter how egregious the offense.
Tampering with some of the game’s biggest names? Suggesting it would be a good idea to lose games intentionally?
No problem, says the league which likes to throw around the word “integrity” at every opportunity — except when it really matters.
In the eyes of Commissioner Roger Goodell, some mandatory vacation time, a fine that roughly amounts to loose change in the sofa, and surrendering a couple of draft picks should be enough to smooth things over.
That’s exactly what Goodell imposed this week on Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, whose conduct was so reckless that it wouldn’t have been out of line to shove him out the door — or at least give him a gentle nudge.
Of course, in its version of the just-before-the-weekend news dump, the NFL brilliantly unveiled the case against Ross — and it’s quite a doozy — while most fans and pundits were fixated on what’s next for quarterback Deshaun Watson, who received a six-game suspension for multiple allegations of sexual misconduct during massages.
The NFL appealed, which could have sent the case to Goodell for harsher, more appropriate punishment, but he timidly handed it off to an outside arbiter.
The Watson case is bad enough. Ross’ shenanigans were also worthy of outrage.
But Goodell would prefer we all just move along from a week of disturbing revelations and get to what’s really important: a season that conveniently began Thursday night with the Hall of Fame exhibition game in Canton, Ohio.
Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!
The great and powerful commish has spoken!!
By now, it should be crystal clear to everyone that Goodell could not care less about integrity as long as the league’s coffers — and his own — keep growing at a rate far ahead of surging inflation.
Sure, he’ll swing into action when a player who hasn’t been with his team all season dares to venture onto a casino app to place legal bets on NFL games. Never mind that the league has fully embraced sports gambling and has no problem cashing all the massive checks it brings in.
Calvin Ridley’s wagering, which he readily admitted to with no suggestion that it impacted games, led to his suspension for at least the 2022 season and means the Atlanta Falcons receiver has no chance of receiving his $11.1 million salary until he’s reinstated.
Compare that with Ross’ case.
Goodell issued a harsh statement, singling out “violations of unprecedented scope and severity,” but showed he didn’t have the stomach to actually back up his words with decisive action.
Sure, the Dolphins will be hurt by the loss of a first-round pick next year and a third-round pick in 2024, but the remainder of the sanctions were laughable.
Ross was fined $1.5 million, which is roughly 0.018% of his estimated net worth of $8.2 billion and a blip compared to the salary Ridley isn’t receiving. Ross also was suspended from his team through Oct. 17, meaning he won’t be around for the first six games of the regular season — at least 11 games fewer than Ridley’s banishment.
Somehow, Goodell was able to justify the disparity of his punishments — maybe because his mind is filled with nothing but dollar signs — even though the league determined Ross improperly negotiated with seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady and former New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton while they were working for other teams.
“I know of no prior instance of a team violating the prohibition on tampering with both a head coach and star player, to the potential detriment of multiple other clubs, over a period of several years,” Goodell said. “Similarly, I know of no prior instance in which ownership was so directly involved in the violations.”
The league’s investigation, which grew out of former Dolphins coach Brian Flores filing a racial discrimination lawsuit after his firing, was more vague about Flores’ accusations that Ross offered him $100,000 per game to intentionally lose so Miami would get a better spot in the draft.
While the league found that Ross never followed through on the alleged offer, he did express several times that draft position should take priority over win-loss record.
Goodell — remember, he’s the guy who was so concerned with the integrity of the game in Ridley’s case — appears to have totally brushed off Ross’ clear belief that tanking wasn’t a bad thing, comments that so disturbed Flores he passed them on in writing to senior team executives.
Flores, now an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers, noted that Ross avoided “any meaningful consequence” even though — and it sounded like he was mocking Goodell here — “there is nothing more important when it comes to the game of football itself than the integrity of the game.”
Of course, Flores and anyone else who has paid a lick of attention to the Goodell regime should have known that Ross would get away with it.
Look no further than Washington owner Dan Snyder, who has faced numerous allegations of a toxic workplace environment without facing any significant punishment.
In a league that truly embraced integrity, Snyder would already be out the door and Ross wouldn’t be far behind.
But Goodell is sending a different message.
Are you ready for some football?!
Paul Newberry is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at [email protected]