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On Sports

Heat intensifies as Roger Goodell, NFL fumble major issues

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Rochester Business Journal
September 19, 2014

Several weeks ago, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell was the most powerful man in sports. He clearly isn’t any more. His fumbling of the Ray Rice domestic violence case and the league’s belated response to Adrian Peterson’s alleged child abuse has made Goodell and his bosses—the 32 NFL owners—look like a bunch of inept, morally bankrupt morons.

The commissioner’s hot seat became radioactive on Tuesday when representatives of rankled, big-time NFL sponsors—including Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo and Nike—issued press releases stating their displeasure with recent events. They said they would continue to monitor things. Interpretation: You better get your act together ASAP or else. Money talks. Budweiser pays the NFL more than $200 million a year for its sponsorship. PepsiCo shells out $100 mil annually. Should any of these heavy hitters sack their sponsorships, as the Radisson hotel chain did recently with the Minnesota Vikings after star running back Peterson was charged with child abuse, Goodell would be shown the door faster than you can say “the National Freefall League” by the men who pay his $40 million-a-year salary.

If anything good is to come of this, it’s that the league is finally being forced to address issues that have been festering for years. Goodell recently appointed four women to positions of power to help the NFL formulate proactive programs. That’s a good start, especially in a league that for too long has been run like an old boys’ club from the early 20th century.

Sadly, these violence issues, like the concussion and painkiller issues, were covered up for years. You always hope that people will do the right thing because they have integrity. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen all the time. Occasionally, organizations become arrogant and corrupt and need to be prodded by outside forces to show some scruples. Let’s hope the NFL discovers a moral compass and becomes an agent of positive change in these matters.

One of the most disturbing developments during this recent spate of NFL-related scandals was the reaction of Baltimore Ravens fans after the commish finally got it right and suspended Rice indefinitely. ESPN interviewed several female fans wearing Rice jerseys at a Ravens home game a week ago Thursday. A couple of the interviewees said they were victims of spousal abuse. Are you kidding me? They were physically abused by men and they couldn’t see the connection of paying homage to a man who had knocked out his then fiancee in that disgusting elevator video? I understand the passion of fans. I really do. It often can be charming. But these interviews floored me. These women clearly had to be delusional. Very sad.

Amid this recent spate of scandals, the NFL sure could use a feel-good story, and the Buffalo Bills are providing one. After 14 years of mediocrity, the Bills are enjoying an abundance of good news. It began, of course, with Jim Kelly’s announcement that he is cancer-free. Then came the upset of the Chicago Bears in the opener at Soldier Field, a place where the Bills had been winless. That was followed by the news that Terry and Kim Pegula would become the team’s new owners, ensuring that the franchise would stay in Western New York for generations to come, prompting grown men and women to cry. And that all was followed by last Sunday’s emotional pre-game tribute to late owner Ralph Wilson and the subsequent 29-10 “squishing” of the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo’s longtime, hated rival.

Two weeks into the season, the Bills find themselves undefeated and in sole possession of first place in the AFC East. (How often have we been able to write that?) The national media has taken notice. Respected Sports Illustrated football writer Peter King lists Buffalo 10th in his weekly power rankings. “Bills 56, Foes 30,” wrote King on his must-read website “EJ Manuel’s completing 67 percent. Two statoids I never thought I’d be writing after two weeks.”

Manuel has looked decent in his first two outings. He’s managed the game well, made some plays when he’s had to, and kept the mistakes to a minimum (just one interception so far.) The defense has looked much better against the run. The special teams, which benefited from C.J. Spiller’s 102-yard kickoff return, a blocked punt and five Dan Carpenter field goals, looked truly special last week. So, there is reason to rejoice.

But … I’m a student of history, especially Bills history, so I urge the team’s fans to be cautiously optimistic. It’s premature to believe the team has turned the corner and is ready to punch a playoff ticket after just two games. Remember 2011, when Buffalo opened with four consecutive victories, including a stunning 34-31 win against New England in which the Bills intercepted future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady four times? Well, that team lost 10 of its next 12 games. There also was the tease in 2008 when Buffalo started 4-0, only to stumble home with a 7-9 mark.

This team, particularly its second-year quarterback, remains a work in progress. Sunday’s game at the Ralph, against a San Diego Chargers team coming off an upset of defending Super Bowl champion Seattle, will be another measuring stick as to how far this Bills team has come. And after that Buffalo will face challenging road games against the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions before coming home to play the Patriots, who remain the divisional kingpins. That’s a tough stretch.

So, as a student of history and a journalist who has witnessed too many false starts by the Bills, I’m going to withhold judgment. Cautious optimism is the best course of action.

You can listen to award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 95.7 FM, AM 950 or on-line at You can also watch him discuss the Bills on WROC-TV 8 Sunday mornings at 10:30 and after games.

Pitoniak honored
Rochester Business Journal sports columnist Scott Pitoniak has earned a first-place honor in the Professional Football Writers of America’s 2014 Dick Connor Writing Awards.

Pitoniak won in the columns category with his piece, “Saga of O.J. Simpson still seems surreal decades later,” published Nov. 1. This is the fourth time he has received first-place honors in the annual PFWA competition and the 10th time overall that his work has been recognized by the organization.

Other winners in this year’s competition include writers from the New York Daily News, the Chicago Tribune, ESPN the Magazine and other national publications. The awards will be presented at the PFWA’s annual banquet on the eve of the Feb. 1 Super Bowl in Arizona.

9/19/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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