A Courteous Contrararian

Roger Goodell and leadership

Written By: Jon - Sep• 17•14

In keeping with my short tradition of things musical and/or theological, I’d like to offer my views on the current furor in the NFL.

Four players have been arrested, convicted, or indicted on some form of domestic violence. One, Ray Rice, was suspended for two games for knocking out his then fiance with a punch in a casino elevator. The length of his suspension caused a public uproar in many quarters and the strength and breadth of the protestations may have spurred the NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, to set the length for future suspensions in stone: 6 games for the first offense and an indefinite suspension for a second.

So far, so good. I guess. I have no problem with the NFL policy and really, i had no problem when Rice was only given a two game suspension. Two games meant he missed two paychecks; about half a million dollars. That’d make me enter counseling pretty quick. But dollar amounts aside, he was essentially fined over twelve percent of his annual pay. That’s a large chunk of disposable income for many of us. For the rest of us, twelve percent keeps us from paying for essentials.

What happened next concerns me. The video of the actual punch was leaked and Goodell changed Rice’s suspension from two games to indefinite. He says it was because the NFL hadn’t previously seen the video and Ray Rice wasn’t totally forthcoming before he originally passed judgment. An inquiry has been launched to discover who knew what and who said what, and when, but I don’t need to wait for the results before I protest that the proceedings have become totally unjust.

If Ray Rice was suspended for two games for knocking out his fiance, he shouldn’t have the penalty increased because we now have definite proof that he knocked out his fiance. Did Goodell see the tape and think, “Oh, that kind of a punch! I thought he knocked her out with a wussy little punch.”

Goodell said Rice and his fiance were not entirely forthcoming. That was his justification for increasing the punishment. Either Goodell doesn’t have the imagination to see that a knockout punch is a knockout punch, and a serious offense in any event, or he truly doesn’t believe that domestic vio;ence is a serious matter. Because in essence, if what he said is true, he is penalizing Rice indefinitely for applying spin to his best advantage and only two games for the violence. An indefinite ban for lying.

Of course, I don’t believe any of the silly scenarios we’ve examined is true. I think Goodell has caved to public opinion. He caved when he announce future suspensions would be six games instead of two and he caved when he upped Rice’s suspension to indefinite. An therein lies the problem.

And finally we get to a little theology. We are talking about judgment: the judgment(s) by the commissioner and the judgment from the crowd of voices. What did Jesus say about judgment? “Do not judge.” God said judgment is his. When we put the two together (and bring in all the other pertinent passages) we find that we shouldn’t judge unless we are given the responsibility to judge by God.

He gives the responsibility to judge to parents when he grants the child. He gives the responsibility to our leaders whne they become our leaders, if you believe His claim that he chooses them and tells us to obey them. In each of the social institutions he has ordained (family, church and government), he has also given responsibility to nurture and judge. If leaders don’t lead and judges don’t judge, we will be left with a certain pandemonium, and that is what is happening right now in the world of sports.

Goodell, by caving to vocal public pressure, is doing much more harm than good. He must lead, he must be consistent, and he must be just.

Biblically, judgment must always be vertical. We can only judge those we have been granted the authority to judge. When Jesus said, “do not judge,” he meant it for everyone else in every other possible situation. And the verticality of judgment is a two way street. Leaders can be judged by their followers. I can and should leave my church if my Pastor is a leader I can’t follow. We can overthrow tyrannies when the injustice becomes too great.

This speaking of truth to power was exhibited when Nathan called King David out for his gross sin.

This counterbalance from below is necessary because all of us, even leaders, (or maybe even especially leaders) are flawed and sinful people. This is how God keeps us from chaos.
The problem as i see it with the the current situation is that the voice of the people has gained such power without its corresponding ameliorating counterbalance. The cacophony of voices has no responsibility and so will suffer no consequences if they are wrong. The self-righteous and holy response from those not in power comes from people who sound like they don’t think they’ve ever made a serious mistake. They can say what they want and react as they will because they don’t have the great weight of leadership upon their shoulders. They don’t have to worry about the measure they have used.
Until one day they come face to face with their Creator.

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