Starkey: Almighty Goodell sets dangerous precedent

Thursday, April 22, 2010

You can't spell Goodell without "God," and that is apparently who the NFL's commissioner is trying to be, now that he has severely punished a player who has never been arrested or charged with a crime.

From this point forward, Roger Goodell let's call him God-ell will be the one to decide if an accuser's complaints have merit.

God-ell help us.

The player in question, of course, is Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been sacked with a six-game suspension minimum four games in the wake of an unproven rape accusation in Milledgeville, Ga.

I'm not defending Roethlisberger. I understand why a faction of the fan base is disgusted and wants him out. Part of me believes something very bad happened that night in Milledgeville, and I wonder if it's a pattern of behavior. I also wonder if more trouble lies ahead. I would defend the Steelers if they unloaded him.

But that kind of conjecture doesn't count in a court of law and shouldn't in the kingdom of God-ell, either.

You want to suspend Roethlisberger a game or two for apparently purchasing alcohol for minors? Fine. Tack on some counseling. A six-game penalty is ridiculously excessive.

It is the equivalent of a 60-game suspension in baseball. It also makes you wonder if the great and powerful Rog was trying to appease those eager to see if he had the guts to go after a star white quarterback.

God-ell gave 'em more than they bargained for but put himself in a precarious position moving forward. Forget about arrests and charges. Mere accusations are now fair game.

God-ell has suspended 16 players under the personal conduct policy, which was enacted with the players' blessing three years ago this month. They gave him the power. In this case, he abused it. Roethlisberger is the first player suspended under the policy who has never been arrested or charged with a crime.

Talk about a can of worms. This is more like a can of snakes.

Will accusations of, say, marital infidelity against players, coaches or team executives now be deemed suspendible? How about players or team officials who frequent strip clubs or use prostitutes, or merely are accused of it?

Where will all that fall on God-ell's morality meter?

It'll be interesting to see what happens to Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Eric Foster, who is being sued by a hotel employee who claims he groped her in his hotel room. Though Foster's no star, he should be subjected to the same scrutiny as Roethlisberger within NFL offices.

It's a shame, really, that God-ell has set a new precedent, because the personal conduct policy has been a raging success. That's the only way to view it if you read the numbers from the San Diego Union-Tribune's exhaustive study.

In tracking every arrest and major citation involving NFL players over the past four years, the newspaper concluded that the total has been reduced from 79 the year before the policy was enacted to 44 this past year.

Impressive stuff, but as you finish the story, you see a list of incidents from the past year and wonder why players such as Denver Broncos tight end Richard Quinn have escaped the wrath of God-ell.

In September, Quinn was arrested for allegedly grabbing his girlfriend, shaking her to the ground and taking her phone away when she tried to dial 911. (Does this guy consider James Harrison a role model?)

Quinn was cleared of charges. The NFL has not punished him.

God-ell knows, Big Ben wasn't so lucky.

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