For a week, Joe Mauer gets to not be the most overpaid sports figure in Minnesota.
He can thank Roger Goodell.
Mauer has one year remaining on his $184 million deal, which pays him $23 million a year even as a 34-year-old non-catcher who has hit more than 13 home runs once in his career.
But he’s more productive than Goodell, who makes about $40 million a year to not really solve any of the National Football League’s problems, and to make some of them worse.
Goodell, the NFL commissioner, gave his annual state-of-the-league address at the Minneapolis Hilton on Wednesday.
He tried to argue that the Oakland Raiders had complied with the Rooney Rule requiring the interviewing of minority candidates, even though the Raiders settled on Jon Gruden before their season even ended. (The Raiders violated the Rooney Rule, and the NFL has made little to no progress in the hiring of black coaches and executives under Goodell’s leadership.)
Goodell argued that recent studies indicating NFL games on Thursday night increase the risk of player injury were statistically insignificant and not consistent with statistics from previous years. (Thursday night football is a travesty.)
For once, though, Goodell said something with which I agree. He said that the NFL’s catch rule is a problem. (This is true.) He said it isn’t the officials’ fault, it’s the way the rule is written. (This is also true.) And he said the best way to fix the problem is to re-examine the entire rule, rather than trying to tweak the language or interpretation of the current rule. (Trifecta.)
The catch rule is the microcosm that explains the macrocosm. If a football league loses the ability to explain or interpret what is a “catch,” how well is the league run on any level, other than in the little office where they cash the billion-dollar network and sponsorship checks?
Goodell revealed he has looked at the catch rule in myriad ways with myriad advisers, including Vikings Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, who told him, Goodell said, that a catch isn’t a catch unless the player can “hand the ball to the official” at the end of the play.
This is the problem with asking former players their opinions of complex rules. Carter was a great player with massive hands. Not every NFL receiver can meet his standards. And Carter is probably discounting the times when modern replay might have found he allowed the ball to touch the ground.
The catch fiasco is a joke without a punchline. A player can grasp the ball in a way that everyone watching identifies as a “catch,” and vague language and frame-by-frame scrutiny of slow-motion replay can reveal a microscopic flaw that makes the catch not a catch, while also adding dead time to a sport that is mostly dead time.
So thanks to Goodell for being willing to fix this problem. “We have some very good ideas that we’re going to submit to the Competition Committee,” Goodell said. He didn’t offer further specifics, but then he rarely does.
Most of Goodell’s tenure has been consumed with fighting illogical or unwinnable battles, trying to preside over the league rather than run it.
He’d be better off running it. All the NFL needs is a commissioner who addresses specific, obvious problems, not a commissioner who embroils himself in witch hunts and player punishments. You can hire someone to do that.
For $40 million a year, the NFL needs someone who can smooth the league’s rough edges, who can forge a better relationship with the players and the Players Association (which in reality are often two different groups), who can push for a way to make the game safer for players, and who can dampen the unbridled greed of globalization.
Whatever its problems, the NFL remains the most rich and powerful sport in the history of North America.
Figure out what a catch is. Listen to the players. Enforce your own rules, including the one named after a beloved owner.
The NFL can survive bad management.
But it shouldn’t have to.