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Capital

Why Do We Need Commissioners Anyway?

WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 03: National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, Rob Manfred, executive vice president of labor and human resources in the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, Major League Baseball, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, Michael Weiner, general counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association, Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, Gabriel Feldman, associate professor of law and director of the Sports Law Program at Tulane University Law School, and Jeffrey Standen, professor of law at the Willamette University College of Law (L-R), testify on Capitol Hill on November 3, 2009 in Washington, DC. The hearing focused on doping in professional sports.(Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Roger Goodell; Rob Manfred; DeMaurice Smith; Michael Weiner; Travis Tygart; Gabriel Feldman; Jeffrey Standen
Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Two days ago, some idiot explained for the umpteenth time that Roger Goodell with a memo about behavior within the National Football League is the same as Roger Goodell with a bucket of bleach, a scrub brush, and a bloody crime scene. Bad things have happened, he has to get rid of the evidence and convince everyone that they didn’t see what they know they saw. The idiot in question then realized that this is the same story, with a few altered details that everyone, himself included, has written for years. We all get it by now: A commissioner is there to keep his employers safe, if not from condemnation then at least from consequences. If he or she has to perform acts of personal degradation to keep the cops off the porch, well, the pay’s good for a reason, you know?

And yet we persist in the myth that commissioners have something to say about the sports and sportsmen who keep them in hot and cold running kitchen help. They don’t. They actually have no value at all when it comes to discipline, ethics, dignity, and guidance. They just try to convince the neighbors that they’ve tidied up after the mess has been made while knowing that the mess is being preserved as is.

So why then do idiots like this one even bother? Not with the fiction of what a commissioner can do, but in the fiction of a commissioner at all. They do not guide behavior or fashion enduring league policy. They barely punish players for doing punishable things, with a sliding scale depending on position, pay grade and Q rating.

What they actually do, as it turns out, is handle network rights fees and labor negotiations, all with a clear mandate. Make money for their superiors, no matter the method. They also do a bit of PR here and there, though mostly they, like their bosses, tend to stay out of sight out of fear that they’ll say something someone will remember in three months when it’s been revealed they were defending the indefensible again.

So why continue to acknowledge these suited scorpions? If they’re not the last word on anything, why would anyone want the first word from them on anything? If we can’t expect them to enhance the entertainments they promote, why would we want them to try, or be again disappointed when they fail? Why don’t we simply classify them as what they actually are: salesmen with a touch of debt collector, and as such unworthy of our attention? Let the inland taipan snakes who run the networks and streaming services deal with them as equals on the most venomous animals list, and leave the bullshit fictions to the people who want their narratives pushed?

Namely, the owners themselves.

Now, understand the owners would rather have their eyelids removed and be nailed to a sun-facing barn door than have to deal with the general public, or as they are known at league meetings, the scum. That’s the other thing commissioners do: pretend to care about the audience in corporations that have neither customer service nor human resources departments. They fail so often at this that they make news only because the things they say are so comprehensively vomitous. We eagerly await the day that Rob Manfred defends baseball’s stance on devouring infants as an acceptable modern business practice needed to keep baseball the national pastime for the minus-62nd year running.

But if we’re going to get lied to, dismissed, and shaken down, shouldn’t it come from someone who actually owns a team and does the deplorable deeds? Surely at these prices, we deserve to hear about football’s hospital-sheet beige hiring practices from Stephen Ross rather than from the feckless Ginger Avenger. Why ask Gary Bettman about Rocky Wirtz when Wirtz on Wirtz is such better theater? How many generations must die waiting for Adam Silver to explain Robert Sarver when a couple of pops and a prod will get you Sarver unfiltered? We don’t want to hear from the floor manager any more, because he sucks. Give us the bastards in charge.

Besides, there’s always one owner in every sport whose narcissism is so mighty that even a team of lawyers with blow darts cannot deter him from luxuriating in the sound of his own syrupy felony-defying voice, and honestly believes that in public as well as private he is the smartest, most erudite, and dazzling eloquent fellow in any room. I mean, Rocky told his own kid to shut up (at a town hall meeting to make nice with a disaffected fan base) because he had something to get off his chest and into someone else’s eye. Of course they’ll talk. You can be sure to find one of those self-preening vipers who will be happy to take the podium at any moment and explain why your life should be solely devoted to lavishing him with money. It’s a lock.

So let’s simply bypass the commissioners entirely. They’ve all forfeited the right to bore us stupid with their Chaucerian recitations of provably false claims across the entire scope of the businesses they serve. They’re just middlemen who make you wish they’d done something more dignified with their lives, like loan sharking, mortgage foreclosures, or library arson. We’re adults. We can take the worst and move ahead with our lives. Keep Roger Goodell. Give us Stan Kroenke. He’s a weasel, but at least there’s half a chance that he’ll admit that the dead chicken he’s holding behind his back is one he stole and killed himself. OK, an eighth of a chance. 

This isn’t a perfect solution to freeing us of commissioners and their unctuous vapidities, but it’s what we’ve got until the governance of the planet is taken over by the blue-ringed octopus and we’re all wading thigh-deep in mammal-killing venom. Sound unpleasant? Not if the other choice were Manfred explaining why you’ll actually enjoy the fact that there’s no baseball in June.