By Sam Nadler
Sam Nadler is a senior at Vanderbilt University studying history.
National Football League (NFL) commissioner Roger Goodell stood at a press conference on September 19th, 2014, in his first public comments addressing the Ray Rice fiasco enveloping the NFL. Rice was initially suspended for only two games after a video was released showing him dragging his fiancé out of an elevator, but when TMZ released a second video of Rice actually knocking his then-fiancée Janay Rice unconscious, backlash to the NFL’s decision grew. After this second video was released, Goodell changed the initial suspension to an indefinite suspension. Goodell, visibly uncomfortable, struggled through the press conference, and afterwards the public was clearly not satisfied with Goodell's answers.
Only months earlier, Adam Silver, Goodell's National Basketball Association (NBA) counterpart, also stood at a podium addressing a controversy in his league. Donald Sterling, the then-owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was recorded by his girlfriend V. Stiviano making racist remarks during a phone call. Silver left no room for doubt when he suspended Sterling for life from all league association and announced the initiation of proceedings to force Sterling to sell his team. In contrast to Goodell, he was not on the defensive, trying to protect himself and his league, but instead on the offensive. Also unlike Goodell, Silver was praised after the press conference for his quick and decisive action.
The difference between Goodell's and Silver's handling of their respective leagues' biggest controversies in recent memory was the proactivity that Silver displayed compared to Goodell's reactivity. Silver dealt with his situation decisively, while Goodell, in essence, created a controversy of his own by only harshening Rice's suspension after public outrage over the second video. The legal proceedings in both cases are a testament to the leagues’ differences in approach, and suggest that Goodell, who is not a lawyer, could learn a lot from the University of Chicago Law-educated Silver.
After months of back-and-forth between Goodell and Executive Director of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) DeMaurice Smith, arbitrator Barbara S. Jones heard an appeal from Rice arguing that Goodell had no right to impose the initial suspension, a case for which the American Bar Association offered a legal overview. Rice's team argued that he had been forthcoming in his player conduct hearing in front of the NFL, and the second video released was not, in effect, any new evidence that the NFL could use against him. Jones ruled against the league and immediately reinstated Rice to the NFL. She agreed with Rice's argument that the indefinite suspension was punishing him twice for the same offense and that he did not “lie or mislead the NFL at the June 16 meeting.”
The primary pieces of evidence that Jones relied on when making her ruling were the handwritten notes of Goodell and others. Jones reported that Goodell's notes were “not detailed” and contained no “verbatim quotes” from Rice. It is reasonable to assume that someone trained in law would not only have taken more detailed notes, but would have also employed a stenographer to have a record of such an important meeting. However, some in the room, including NFLPA counsel Heather McPhee (part of Rice's team) had detailed notes that conveyed quotes conflicting with Goodell's version of what Rice testified. Goodell's loss of the Ray Rice case is evidently attributable to both the impermissibility of punishing Rice twice for the same infraction and shortsightedness in his conduct hearing. This ruling struck a blow to the power that Goodell wields, as in
player conduct issues, many have argued that Goodell plays the role of judge, jury, and executioner.  While under article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, Goodell has broad authority in this area, he has been criticized for hurting the credibility of himself and the NFL through his actions.
Silver, on the other hand, achieved his goal of ridding the league of Sterling when a California court approved the sale of the Clippers to former Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer. Unlike Goodell, Silver played a mostly hands-off role in concluding the Sterling saga after the initial press conference. Sterling’s wife initiated the sale on her own accord after gaining control of the family trust. Silver's actions (or inaction) over the course of the scandal garnered praise because he acted immediately in the best interests of the public.  This is in direct contrast with Goodell, who sealed his fate when he only banned Rice for two games originally, then lengthened the suspension after the second video was released. Furthermore, instead of acting as judge, jury, and executioner like Goodell, Silver's hands-off approach to the legal process understated his conviction that the judicial system could sort out the issue once he made the first move. An examination of both ordeals makes it clear how Silver, guided by his legal background, successfully navigated his controversy, while Goodell became mired in his to the point that the verdict came down in favor of Rice. Goodell must now work to repair his image, which suffered as a result of the Ray Rice case; SportsBusiness Daily ranked the most influential people in sports, and Goodell fell to the number five spot, his lowest ranking since he became NFL commissioner in 2006. He should learn from his past mistakes and avoid becoming overly involved in legal issues where he does not have any expertise.It is obvious from their respective actions in the Rice and Sterling scandals that Silver, armed with a competence in the law, handled his league's issue much more proficiently than Goodell.
 Duncan, Jeff. "Roger Goodell Needs to Cede Power in Player Conduct Discipline." The Times-Picayune. September 25, 2014.
 Lane, Gary. "NBA's Ban on Don Sterling Draws Widespread Praise." CBN News. April 30, 2014.
Photo Credit: Flickr User Rob Buenaventura