Roger Goodell: A Case Study in Bad Leadership

It’s Day 5 of Deflate-Gate, which is great because, what else are we gonna talk about? We get to pontificate on who did what, how they ought to be punished, the science of air pressure, eighth grade jokes about balls, etc.

But it’s worth noting that, if the NFL wasn’t currently operating under the worst commissioner in sports history, this conversation would probably be over. And that’s what makes this scandal a perfect case study in bad leadership.

Let’s play out this same scenario under a commissioner of average leadership skills. In this hypothetical scenario, we could still debate whether or not this scandal was the fault of control freak Coach Belichick, or golden boy Tom Brady, or maybe some rogue ball boy. But that’s where the conversation would end, because the penalty is already set in the rule book: “Anyone who alters the inflation of a ball faces a $25,000 fine.” That should be in the end of the story. If our hypothetical commissioner wanted to be a little liberal with the rulebook, he could fine the Patriots per ball for a total of $275,000.

Back to reality, no one has any faith in Goodell’s leadership skills, and so we have no idea what his response to this saga will be. History has shown us he does not feel beholden to the rules, so the fine mentioned above is meaningless. This, by the way, is a criticism levied against him since his first year in office. (His botching of the Pac Man Jones situation feels like forever ago, and yet it’s the same old Roger.)

Not only does he not follow the rules, but he’s not even consistent from decision to decision; because Roger Goodell loves making decisions based on public opinion. Incidentally, this is part of the reason there is so much noise around this issue, the public knows they could potentially alter the outcome.

Worst of all, bad leaders make decisions for the wrong reasons. Will Roger do what is best for the integrity of the game? Doubtful. Bad leaders typically make the decision that they think will best cover for the fact that they are horrible at their job. And so what this week’s investigation uncovers probably matters about as much as the inflation of the balls mattered to the outcome of Sunday’s game. Roger will weigh all of his options based upon what they will say about him as a commissioner, and rule accordingly. The Patriots will be punished for breaking the rules by the ultimate ruler-breaker.

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