Up Next


Roger Goodell’s absolute power is driving Jerry Jones to civil war. That’s ironic.

The Cowboys owner’s bare-knuckle brawl to replace the commissioner is a distraction of its own

I can still remember the day NFL commissioner Roger Goodell unveiled a new and stronger personal conduct policy that expanded his already broad powers to punish players for behavior detrimental to the league.

It was such a lovely scene.

Goodell basked in the glow of his reputation as the law-and-order commissioner. All the club owners gleefully backed him up as he relayed another no-tolerance directive to players during a news conference in Dallas, ironically enough.

This, of course, was after the commissioner had thoroughly embarrassed himself and the league with his handling of Ray Rice’s punishment. But that didn’t stop Robert Kraft and other NFL owners from heaping effusive praise on Goodell — even going so far as to credit him with making the NFL the most popular sport in America.

“The commissioner is always looking at the long-term best interests of the game,” Kraft told reporters.

Good times.

Now Kraft and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones have learned the hard way that it’s not always a good idea to give one person unquestioned and unchecked authority.

Thanks to the excellent reporting of Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham, we’ve learned that Jones is willing to sue the league, humiliate other NFL owners and create even more controversial headlines for the league because he so strongly objects to a contract that would extend Goodell through 2024.

Just let that sink in.

That’s why this coup Jones is trying to stage against Goodell after years of singing his praises is just laughable.

It’s a classic example of the chickens coming home to roost. Jones, a proud billionaire and owner of the NFL’s most valuable team, is fighting with a man who reportedly asked NFL owners to pay him $50 million a year and give him lifetime use of a private jet.

That’s rich. Literally.

The NFL, in many respects, is getting exactly what it deserves. For years, NFL players have complained that Goodell’s power was too absolute and his player punishments were wildly inconsistent. Granted, when the league first got into the business of policing player conduct, many players, including former NFL Players Association boss Gene Upshaw, supported the commissioner expanding his power to clean up the league and restore its tattered image.

The personal conduct policy instituted in 1997 under former commissioner Paul Tagliabue was strengthened in 2007 after a slew of player arrests, most notably of Adam Jones and Chris Henry.

The NFL needed to send the message that lawlessness wouldn’t be tolerated. And the owners couldn’t have been happier that Goodell, and Goodell alone, would wield his gavel like Thor wielded his hammer.

My bet is that the owners never anticipated that Goodell would one day use that authority to damage them. It’s one thing to see a player like Jones suspended after repeated arrests. It’s another thing entirely for that power to be turned on NFL stars Tom Brady and Ezekiel Elliott, especially when the evidence used to support their suspensions was dicey — at best.

The Patriots’ Super Bowl victory after Brady’s suspension probably eased some hard feelings between Kraft and Goodell, although it’s doubtful their relationship will ever again be as cozy as it was in 2014. But for Jones, who finally built a team that could push deep into the postseason, losing Elliott for six games probably means another season where the Cowboys don’t come close to sniffing a Super Bowl — if they even make the playoffs.

But this goes beyond just Jones and Goodell’s fight for world domination. This fight leads right back to Colin Kaepernick, whose decision to take a stand against racial injustice — or rather, take a knee — was so controversial that he remains unemployed.

Let’s not pretend as if the optics on that day in Dallas didn’t also win the NFL some easy publicity points. While the policy itself is not racial, nothing plays bigger in the press than publicly punishing, or criticizing, black players.

That Kaepernick is being kept out of the league — and we’re not going to waste time debating this again when we see so many quarterbacks out there every week who can’t hold Kaepernick’s cleats — reminds me of the old adage “God don’t like ugly.”

The NFL tried to turn Kaepernick into a pariah, and it didn’t work. Kaepernick’s message hasn’t been lost because he’s no longer kneeling on an NFL sideline. He’s now a far more powerful voice outside of the league than he ever was when he played behind center. The newly minted GQ Citizen of the Year has created an awakening in other athletes across the entire sports world and inspired them to not only use their voices but to also recommit to working for change in their communities.

Kaepernick wasn’t wanted in the league because the NFL wanted to avoid the “distraction.” Well, the exact opposite has happened. The message he intended to send has become a major storyline this season, and it’s driving league ownership crazy. And in the process, it’s been exposed that some owners — Bob McNair immediately comes to mind — see the players as nothing more than just the next man up.

The NFL used to glory in the fact that they were so pivotal to American culture that they could effortlessly dominate the news cycle however they chose. Be careful what you wish for.

Jemele Hill is a Senior Correspondent and Columnist for ESPN and The Undefeated.