Goodell great for NFL, even if Steelers and their fans disagree
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It was about 90 minutes after Super Bowl XLIII, a game that always will be remembered here because of the Steelers' fabulous comeback against the Arizona Cardinals. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was at a private party, his tie off, his sleeves rolled up and a cold adult beverage in his hand. Earlier that evening, he had handed the Lombardi Trophy to Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the man who pushed hardest for him to become commissioner in August 2006. Goodell was feeling pretty good about himself and his league.
Imagine how Goodell felt Sunday night after Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
It was another terrific game, the New York Giants' 21-17 victory against the New England Patriots going down to the final play. Goodell, a noted perfectionist, wasn't pleased with the classless middle-finger salute in the halftime show by one of the featured singers, whose name is not worth mentioning. But everything else was good. No, everything else was great.
Everything about Goodell's $10 billion-a-year NFL is great, actually.
Well, almost everything.
We'll get to the concussion issue in a moment.
Goodell has enemies in this town, mostly because he has had the audacity to fine linebacker James Harrison and other Steelers for illegal and dangerous helmet-to-helmet hits. But his legacy as one of sports great leaders has been secured. He has taken the powerful NFL -- carefully constructed by previous commissioners Paul Tagliabue and Pete Rozelle, not to mention brilliant owners such as the Rooneys -- and made it bigger, stronger and better.
In the summer, Goodell negotiated a new, unprecedented collective bargaining agreement with the players that assures a decade of labor peace. In December, with television ratings soaring, he signed off on a nine-year deal with the networks that will mean $6 billion a year in revenue for the NFL and its players. Even more money will roll in once the league gets a bigger global presence, a Goodell vision.
And you want to know why the NFL owners recently extended Goodell's contract through the 2018 season?
That's right, Pittsburgh, you have Goodell for at least seven more seasons.
Deal with it.
It's fair to say the Steelers didn't celebrate Goodell's extension. Harrison called him a "crook" and a "devil" in a magazine interview in August, later apologizing for the name-calling. Harrison and other Steelers long have complained that Goodell is power hungry and has too much say in the discipline for both on- and off-field discretions. They voted against the new CBA, the only one of the 32 teams to do so.
"Being associated with the NFL is a privilege. It's not a right," Goodell said a month ago on the CBS show "60 minutes." "When you're here, you have to meet that bar.
"I take my responsibilities very seriously. I want to make the league better. To do that, you can't make everybody happy ...
"I have to make sure the integrity of the game is protected at all costs."
Many Goodell critics are offended when he talks about integrity. They were happy the Giants beat the Patriots Sunday night because of "Spygate." In 2007, Goodell fined Patriots coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000 and made it forfeit a No. 1 draft choice after the Patriots were caught taping hand signals of opposing coaches. Goodell then burned the evidence.
I agree with Goodell, who said the taping had "a limited effect -- if any -- on the outcome of any game." I also agreed with him when he said he didn't "think it taints [the Patriots'] accomplishments."
Not everyone does.
"Told you, cheaters never win!!!!!!!!!" Harrison tweeted Sunday night.
Talk about classless.
Harrison also has feuded with Goodell over the concussion issue. He was fined $100,000 by the NFL in the '10 season for illegal hits and suspended for a game in '11 for his cheap shot on Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. Harrison is willing to risk long-term brain damage to make a lucrative living, saying famously he gladly will "go through hell so my kids don't have to." Not all players feel that way, though. They know former players are coming forward with serious health issues because of concussions. Two new lawsuits were filed Friday against the NFL, claiming the league knew the dangers of head injuries but refused to do anything to protect the players. Former Pitt star and NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett brought star power to a previous lawsuit last week by adding his name as a plaintiff.
The NFL has denied any wrongdoing.
Clearly, concussions are the greatest challenge facing Goodell. There might not be a solution. Players are bigger, stronger and faster, and their collisions are brutal. One day, the NFL could ask players to sign waivers acknowledging the risks of the game and agreeing not to sue the league. Goodell said that's not in the immediate plans. The league and the players have committed $100 million to fund concussion research. They also will devote $1 billion to improve the pensions and medical benefits for retired players.
"We will not quit," Goodell said Friday at his annual State of the NFL address at the Super Bowl. "We're going to do what we possibly can to help our retired, current and future players."
That includes Harrison, not that he has much interest in the help.
Harrison said he was disappointed the Steelers lost to the Green Bay Packers in another wonderful Super Bowl -- Super Bowl XLV -- for all of the obvious reasons. But he said he also was disappointed he didn't get to whisper a message in Goodell's ear on the podium at the Lombardi presentation.
"Why don't you quit and do something else, like start your own league in flag football?"
That's a horrible idea.
The NFL and its players need Goodell to keep doing what he's doing.
He has been great for the league.
First Published February 7, 2012 12:00 am