It's been a pretty bad couple of years for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, if you ask most of the fans and members of the media. The overturning of his suspension of Tom Brady is the latest embarrassment. Sure, the NFL will appeal the ruling, but the continuing damage of the League's PR mess is done.
"Tyrant." "Gone too far." "Judge, jury and executioner." People across the media and social media are lashing out at Goodell for his seeming complete mishandling of the situation that involved a few deflated football.
If you're going to get it harsh, you better get it right. Goodell didn't get it right, and the reaction is harsh.
It's easy for us in the public to look at a disaster like Deflategate and determine that Goodell's time as commissioner is about to end. Goodell can't seem to get anything right, from the Ray Rice non-suspension/over-suspension debacle to even the treatment of Rachel Nichols at a Super Bowl press conference.
Amidst so much recent conversation about the detriment of "distractions" in the NFL, Goodell has been the ultimate sideshow drawing attention from other parts of the NFL.
That's just how the owners like it.
For all of the apparent missteps, Goodell has overseen dramatic expansion of the NFL in his decade atop the League while at the same time becoming the "Shield" the rest of the NFL can hide behind.
During his time at the helm of the League, the NFL's collective revenue has increased. TV deals are more lucrative. The value of all the NFL franchises has increased. That's all happened without a team in the second-largest media market in the country (where every other league, trying so desperately to catch the NFL, has two teams). Owners like that.
There's growing international interest in the NFL. Until Goodell assumed office, only two regular-season NFL games had ever been played outside the United States (and one was in 1926). Since he became the commissioner he's overseen 17 "international" regular-season games. Owners like that.
Plus, yes, Goodell has been harsh when it comes to punishments for players, coaches and owners. He hasn't been afraid to swing hard - including season-long suspensions - when he felt it was in the best interest of the League. He's gotten nothing but criticism for all of it.
Believe it or not, the owners like this too.
Sure, a guy like Robert Kraft will get in front of a microphone and pound his fist and lash out at the NFL when a harsh penalty is handed down. He'll claim betrayal, refusing to trust the commissioner in the future.
Yet even Kraft knows Goodell is good for him and great for the League, because the commisioner makes everyone else smell like roses.
That isn't a back-handed insult at Goodell. The commissioner has willingly put a target on his back, and the media and fans have gleefully taken shots. No matter what he does, Goodell can't seem to get a sniff of good press or create good will with the fans.
In case you think this is hurting the league, the NFL's estimated 2014 revenue was $11 billion. That's more than the NBA, NHL and MLS combined.
It's all taken the focus off of the players, coaches and, yes, the owners of the NFL teams. Suddenly billionaires like Kraft and Jerry Jones are victims of Goodell's tyranny. The subtext of much of the Ray Rice conversation painted him as a victim of a penalty that went too far (after it didn't go far enough). The damaging effects of a bounty program on a team gets overshadowed by the reaction to Goodell's iron fist.
Goodell is the fall guy, the shield, of the NFL and its owners. They don't want that to change anytime soon.