Why the United States Needs to be More Like the NFL

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There is a world of difference between causation and accountability in the National Football League and in American politics and government. If you look at what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell did in response to the lawless actions of the New Orleans Saints and President Barack Obama’s response to President George W. Bush’s lawless actions, you will see that difference as a gulf as vast as the difference between night and day.

Barack Obama, upon taking office, stressed the need to forget the past and to look forward, shrugging off calls to investigate the Bush administration for misdeeds. Roger Goodell, on the other hand, stressed the need for accountability and for a strong message to discourage further threats to the league’s integrity and the health of the players. Roger Goodell has said repeatedly that nobody is bigger than the NFL; the message we got from the Bush administration was that nobody was responsible for what was happening even while it was happening; the message from the Obama administration is that  even afterward (or especially afterward) nobody is still responsible, or that wherever accountability lay, it is better we just forget the past and move forward with shining optimism. The thing is, enemies don’t learn from magnanimity and magnanimity doesn’t discourage further misdeeds – indeed, it encourages them. Caesar pardoned his enemies; they famously stabbed him to death at the first opportunity.

It is very much doubted lessons will not be learned in the NFL, however. Here is what Goodell did to punish the Saints for running a bounty program from 2009-11 in which players were paid to injure other players in order to get them off the field (and ensure a Saints victory):

  • Saints head coach Sean Payton is suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season.
  • Former Saints/current Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is suspended indefinitely. (Commissioner Roger Goodell will review Williams’ status at the conclusion of the 2012 season and consider whether to reinstate him.)
  • Saints GM Mickey Loomis is suspended without pay for the first eight regular-season games of the 2012 season.
  • Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt is suspended without pay for the first six regular-season games of the 2012 season.
  • The Saints are stripped of their 2012 and 2013 second-round draft picks and have been hit with a $500,000 fine.
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Here is what President Obama did to even investigate the Bush administration’s “alleged” (they were often very public) misdeeds:

That’s right. That’s not a typo. It’s just what it looks like…nothing. The NFL produces 50,000 pages of evidence for a scandal involving the intent to injure players and potentially end their careers. The Obama administration produced precisely 0 pages of evidence involving the intent to destroy sovereign nations for the benefit of modern carpetbaggers. More, the Obama administration declined to even investigate. The NFL investigated for two years. They investigated not only the Saints, but the entire league of 32 teams to be certain it was not happening elsewhere, as some claimed.

People have asked why Sean Payton was suspended for an entire season, effective April 1. Roger Goodell’s answer to this was precise and proper: if you did not know what was going on, as head coach you should have. This principle has a long tradition: if you are in charge, it is your responsibility what happens on your watch. This principle was driven home in the Nuremberg Trials after WWII: “I didn’t know” is not an excuse; that applied to Hitler and to his henchmen. Sadly, it does not seem to apply to U.S. government officials, elected or appointed, including the president.

The messages sent are worlds apart: nobody is bigger than the NFL but the President and other government office holders are bigger than the country, or indeed, the world. In the NFL, not only the team, but the head coach, the defensive coordinator, and assistant head coach are all punished, as will be the players involved – 22 to 27 of them. But the United States can invade a foreign nation for no real reason at all and not one single person is held accountable? A war as long as the Trojan War, and just as ruinous if far less glorious: hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded and millions displaced, prisoners tortured, women raped by their coworkers, the federal government and taxpayers defrauded by contractors, and not one single person is to blame for the debacle? Nobody? Really?

There is something seriously wrong with the message being sent here. We are taught, most of us, about causation and accountability from an early age, that our actions have consequences. There are many expressions related to this: you called the tune, now dance to it; you made your bed, now lie in it, etc. How is it that accountability we learn as children through corporal or other forms of punishment doesn’t extend to the national level? Bush couldn’t find anyone to blame in his administration for the terrorist attack on 9/11 and Obama refused to even look for a responsible party in the Iraq War and its long and repulsive trail of consequences. While the government through its various military branches will, like Goodell punish players (individual soldiers) it will not punish those responsible, as Abu Ghraib demonstrated to the world – but these are scapegoats, nothing more. Those actually responsible, those who set the conditions, those on whose watch these atrocities occur, are not touched.

The lesson learned in the NFL is that there will be consequences for threatening the integrity of the game. The lesson learned in government is that there will be no consequences even for invading and plundering a country for personal gain, when that country posed no risk at all to the United States. Republicans want to hold President Obama accountable for various and mostly imagined infractions but those same Republicans were entirely in favor of the Bush administration’s lawless actions. If there is to be justice, if there is to be a message sent, it must be applied to all equally. Commissioner Goodell has done that, by demonstrating that not only will players be punished for their bad conduct but so will coaches, front offices, and the teams themselves.

What a unique concept. It is a shame we can’t apply it to the United States government. Instead, corruption runs rampant and the very people who are supposed to protect the American people from that corruption are the ones responsible for it in the first place (I’m looking at you, Congress). Even when the president does try to lay down the law, he runs into opposition from those benefitting most from the corruption. Imagine if, in attempting to levy his punishment of the Saints yesterday, Roger Goodell had the owners gather together and tell him that, sure, we chose you to be the boss, Roger, but you can’t do this because it’s not in our best interest.

But what is inconceivable in the NFL is commonplace in the United States government. More’s the pity.

9 Replies to “Why the United States Needs to be More Like the NFL”

  1. Yes, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the U.S. was a privately owned entity that could make its own rules when it wanted. Of course the NFL was not in the midst of a financial disaster with all the teams taking to the street calling the owners Nazis and Kenyan Communists, the owners weren’t trying to get health care to the players against staggering odds while having to fight their own comrades. They weren’t trying to keep players homes from being foreclosed on and direct two wars and also bail out the auto industry.

    It is naive to ever think that the condition this country got handed over to a new president in 2009 that there would have been anyway Bush would have been brought up in front of the American people– even though I think W had one of the most disastrous and corrupt presidencies in modern history. In a way I think he hoped he had screwed up so badly it would take a hundred years to unravel his incompetence. He was right. Would I have loved to see him, his enablers and DICK Cheney perp walked?
    Of course.

    But the Obama presidency would have gone down in ruins.
    Absolute ruins. Nothing would have gotten done. Americans may have loved the spectacle but in the end they are not kind to the ones who bring the truth. Rumblings of revenge and not doing everyday business would have started. And where to start? It is indeed sickening. But I’d like to see Bush tried as a n international war criminal so he’d have to leave the damed country.

  2. In this day and age it seems amazing and outside the norm for people in positions of leadership to be held accountable for their actions or, in this case, lack of action. Mr. Goodell has done it right.

  3. Interesting comment that Dragonpuff made about the nation/Obama administration going down in ruins. “nothing would have gotten done”… well The Obama Administration hasn’t attempted to hold anyone accountable for the Bush mis-deeds and yet Congress is STILL ensuring that “nothing gets done”. No matter what Obama attempts to do, to correct the state of the Nation, it gets blocked, overturned, argued into the ground and all around rejected, even with the people’s best interest at heart.

    So since the results were basically the same, why isn’t the Bush-taliban held accountable?

  4. Of course, the NFL pays players good money for trying to hit opposing players hard, and punishes a team for paying players good money for trying to hit opposing players hard.

    It’s bad Public Relations to admit this though, so punishment is needed to make the NFL look like something it isn’t.

  5. I think that’s a cynical view. The punishment is less about hitting them hard than about hitting them with the intent to injure them. As Goodell has repeatedly stated (and his actions back this up) he is trying to change the culture in the NFL. Current and former players agree with him while others don’t. In the end the NFL will have to change or fade because that level of violence is not sustainable.

  6. It was not just president Obama but also Nancy Pelosi (then speaker of the House) who did not want to look into the misdeeds of the Bush Administration.

    Could it be that many Democrats were also accomplicies to their misdeeds? I am sure president Obama regrets it now that he let them walk away free of charge. They thanked him by belittling him at every opportunity.

  7. Unfortunately, the United States IS like the NFL in that we embrace a culture of violence…with impunity. And it goes much farther than whoever is currently in the White House. While I applaud the efforts of the current commissioner, accountability has been awfully late in coming.

  8. PRESIDENT DO NOT PROSECUTE ANYONE. Remember the separation of powers? And it’s ludicrous to make this comparison as dragonpuff notes above. If you think the president is under attack NOW, just think what would have happened if the AG had made this a priority??? It would have derailed every other issue and would still be unresolved.

    We KNOW that what was done was illegal internationally, but the disgusting use of EOs and other quasi-legal procedures made this a YEARS LONG inquiry since it needs even today to be unravelled in terms of legality. IMMORAL yes, ILLEGAL via global treaties and international covenants, yes. Illegal as a national process? Not yet so clear thanks to Ashcroft, Yoo, et al. Unsnarling the protective cover they offered is horrific.

    It would have helped if Congress had done its job and convened an inquiry to pass ON the info to the AG, but it did not, and certain human rights groups believed it had to be “bi-partisan” – like THAT was ever going to happen. But if they had used their subpoena powers to get at a serious inquiry, THEN it might have gone somewhere. But no president can afford the loss of authority over other issues to look like he’s engaging in “gotcha” politics of revenge, not justice.

    The perps are under virtual house arrest, cannot travel abroad, and are rarely heard from (thank GOD) – so the international forces for human rights did our nation a huge favor.

    But asking any president to preside over the predecessor’s downfall is asking the wrong thing of the wrong person. And you liked the Tea Party rise over HEALTH CARE? Ponder what would have occurred were this to have been over prosecuting a former president for war crimes. We’d be in an open shooting civil war not just a cold one.

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